There are few challenges harder than running a marathon. It’s 26.2 miles of sweat, exhaustion, dehydration, and never ending pain in your leg muscles. A marathon is a milestone not just for runners, but for anyone looking to take on one of life’s greatest challenges. In Brittany Runs a Marathon, we get the pleasure of journeying with the titular character to take that challenge on. A strong debut for writer/director Paul Downs Colaizzo carried by a charming performance by Jillian Bell, Brittany Runs a Marathon carries you seamlessly to the finish line.
We meet Brittany (Bell) during her weekly routine: frequently late to her work at a local theater, on the verge of being broke, and going out for weeknight drinks with her roommate and best friend Gretchen (Alice Lee). Her routine gets interrupted by a visit to a doctor when she tries to get prescription medication for recreational use, and the doctor suggests the medicine of getting healthier and losing weight. Another form of intervention comes in the form of her seemingly overachieving neighbor Catherine (Michaela Watkins).
Brittany decides to give running a shot, even if it’s just one block down the street. A well paced scene with a couple of camera tricks shows just how hard those first steps can really be. Despite initial struggles, Brittany joins Catherine’s running group and the race begins. What can be described as a dramedy leaks into a 90 minute Rocky training montage as well. The training scenes are where the film really does something special. The climax of the film (can you guess what it is?) is the culmination of her journey, both metaphorically and physically.
While training for a marathon is the crux of the plot, the strength of the story comes from how to better yourself. While this could have come out like a Paul Fieg comedy, it instead takes the subject seriously. The jokes don’t come at the expense of how the characters look, but from the strength of their on-screen performance. Brittany receives real support from her running buddy Seth (Micah Stock), her step-brother Demetrius (Lil Rey Howery), and Catherine. She meets her foil in man-child Jern (Utkarsh Ambudkar), a slacker who revels in the comfort of being lazy. All of these people create a circle of inspiration that’s wonderful to see.
With the people that lift you up, there’s the people that keep drag you back down. The film doesn’t pull any punches of what happens when toxic people stay in your life. We all have had to cut people out of our lives, and want to root for Brittany to pull out the scissors. Without explicitly stating it, you can see that toxic relationships and self-image have taken a toll on Brittany and her willingness to accept a friend. Again, playing these moments seriously rather than making a joke of people being awful to each other elevates the story.
Brittany’s transformation on screen is thrilling to experience. There’s an attention to detail on the production design. Her room is filled with trinkets and oddities that make her feel like a real person. Her movements and mannerisms add to her character, rather than detract. This goes for all the performances – and I want to highlight the chemistry between Bell and Ambudkar. We’re introduced to all the characters at their stereotypical lowpoint. As Brittany goes on her journey, we go on ours. We realize by the end we judged these characters without even knowing them.
The marathon serves as a perfect metaphor for reaching a goal, no matter how long it takes. It’s about learning to love yourself, and cutting out the toxic people that hold you back. Brittany says early in the movie, “It’s not about coming in first, it’s just about finishing.” The film finishes strong, and displays that small steps can take you a long way on the road of self-care.
Brittany Runs a Marathon
dir. Paul Downs Colaizzo
Opens at the Coolidge, Kendall, and everywhere else Friday 8/30