Movie Review: Brittany Runs a Marathon
By Matthew Huntley
September 26, 2019
“Brittany Runs a Marathon” is essentially the story of a smart but insecure woman trying to find the courage to change herself. She’s in her late 20s and has been riding the late-night clubbing, alcohol-consuming, too-qualified-for-her-low-paying-job wave for too long. She also uses humor and self-deprecation to hide her insecurities because she’s afraid of the time, effort and will power it might take to turn her life around and finally become the woman she wants to be. The movie promotes the time-honored message that being yourself is the best way to be but that such a practice takes a lot of work and conscious effort.
Despite its positive and always-relevant theme, what’s disappointing about “Brittany Runs a Marathon” is it doesn’t wholly practice what it preaches. It advocates that in order to be one’s true self and live life to the fullest, one must take chances and let others in. We must also be willing to occasionally ask for help and avoid hiding behind artificial guises.
But just as writer-director Paul Downs Colaizzo promotes these valuable principles, he simultaneously plays things safe, adhering to uninspired narrative devices, stale clichés and tired Hollywood tropes. He ultimately keeps his story confined to two of the industry’s most conventional and reliable genres: the underdog sports drama and cheesy romantic comedy. Perhaps he should have taken some chances of his own and asked others for help with his script.
Don’t get me wrong—Colaizzo certainly has what it takes to tell an uplifting, heartrending crowd-pleaser, which is no easy task, and I’ll admit “Brittany Runs a Marathon” had me tearing up at the end. There’s something to be said for any movie that renders such an emotional response. And yet, I can’t help but hold this coming-of-age tale to a higher standard and was hoping it would become something more raw and truthful and less run-of-the-mill.
With that said, “Brittany Runs a Marathon” still some things going for it, thanks in large part to Colaizzo making sure we identify and relate to the human characters. To be fair, the blonde, plump Brittany (Jillian Bell) isn’t the most original of New York City socialites we’ve seen in the movies or on TV, and her plight to lose weight and start getting her life in order are all too familiar goals for Hollywood’s female characters in general, but nevertheless, we’ve all experienced her pain at one point or another, and Colaizzo’s script reminds us (on more than one occasion) that everyone is screwed up, no matter how “together” we may appear. This message isn’t anything new, but it always feels good to be reaffirmed we’re not alone when it comes to our hurting and feeling down about ourselves.
The plot begins when Brittany, who once dreamed of a career in advertising but now works at a smalltime playhouse handing out programs, visits a doctor because she has a hard time paying attention to things. She’s hoping the doctor (Patch Darragh) will simply prescribe her a quick fix with Adderall, but to her dismay, he tells her she needs to bring down her mass body index and blood pressure, which means eating better, physically exercising, and getting more sleep.
This isn’t what Brittany wanted to hear, but after a few days of self-reflection, and ignoring the ridicule from her self-centered roommate Gretchen (Alice Lee), she decides to give it a go and run to the end of the block. This end-of-the-block run eventually turns into a mile, and once she finds her footing, Brittany decides to join a running group. It’s the same running group her fit, professional and supposedly self-actualized upstairs neighbor, Catherine (Michaela Watkins), belongs, but Brittany initially hesitates to befriend her because she doesn’t want Catherine’s pity. She’s more willing to run alongside Seth (Micah Stock), who gets just as winded as Brittany but has promised to get in shape for his husband and kids.
Weeks go by and Brittany, Seth and Catherine run a 5k and have formed a rather close-knit bond. With their endorphins fully charged, they decide to do something unheard of for them and train for the New York City Marathon, hence the movie’s title. And so, just as we expect, Brittany transforms before our eyes, and we get all the usual milestones and montages we expect from an underdog story like this.
Along the way, the movie also introduces a generic but still sweet romance when Brittany and a ne’er-do-well artist named Jern (Utkarsh Ambudkar) transition from two house sitters taking on separate shifts to close roommates illegally squatting in their employer’s townhouse to full-on lovers. Brittany and Jern’s chemistry isn’t the most magnetic, but it gets the job done.
And of course, just like any feel-good sports movie or banalized romance, there are the inevitable moments of doubt in the final act of “Brittany Runs a Marathon” that attempt to make us wonder whether Brittany will cross the finish line and whether her and Jern’s love will blossom. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out the ending of either plot, but just like running a marathon, it’s not about the end but the journey toward it.
So is Brittany’s journey worth our time, given that we probably know where it’s going the whole time, not to mention how it will get there? I wouldn’t answer that question with a hard “no,” but more with a reluctant “not really.” Even though I related to Brittany and the other characters’ personal woes and growing pains, and ultimately took pleasure in watching them mature and climb their way out of self-doubt and defeat, the movie is just too similar to others of its kind. It may stand apart because it’s about training for an running a marathon, which isn’t the most filmed sporting event in the movies, and to its credit, it gets this part right. Any marathon runner watching “Brittany Runs a Marathon” will easily be transported to anyone of their respective races and recall what it was like, with those simultaneous feelings of excitement, anxiety, fear and exhaustion, which get combined with cheers from strangers, drinking water and Gatorade from paper cups like mad people, and rushing in an out of port-o-potties. We get a sense of that experience here and how overwhelming and wonderful it is.
But I think the movie could have depicted its marathon scenes just as accurately within a more honest and original coming-of-age dramedy, particularly one that wasn’t so laden with clichés and obvious messages. With “Brittany Runs a Marathon,” Colaizzo assembles his parts more or less where we expect based on a customary Hollywood blueprint and even though the result is admittedly touching and inspiring, it’s also short-lived and more empty than full.