Is it safe?
Brittany Runs a Marathon (2019) 8 out of 10: This is a movie about an obese twenty-eight-year-old woman named Brittany who… hold on let me check my movie watching notes here… runs a marathon.
The Good: Much like Killer Flood: The Day the Dam Broke or The Devil’s Tomb; Brittany Runs a Marathon’s title gives away its ending. And yet here I am choking back tears at the conclusion of the film. Dammit, movie.
Brittany Runs a Marathon nails the ending. Yes, I am familiar with how sports films work. Yes, it is the same tropes that other films use… but gosh darn it here come the waterworks. I think the ending works so well because we realise this is a true story and Jillian Bell as Brittany herself lost forty pounds during the filming and really looks proud of herself at the end.
The Bad: Brittany starts off the film visiting a physician to score some recreational Adderall and then receives news that her numbers don’t look good, her liver may be getting fatty and she is obese. And so she starts her journey to get healthy.
The characterization almost doesn’t support this sea change. Brittany abuses drugs and alcohol, is still just good looking and young enough for causal hook-up sex, has a dead-end job she manages not to be very good at (ticket taker at an Off-Broadway theater). So why does she take the doctor’s advice? I mean in reality most woman like her would write a ten thousand word blog post on Tumblr about how the doctor fat shamed her, refused her necessary prescription till she lost weight, how he is sexist, here comes the one star Yelp review, and we need to ruin this guy.
There are an awful lot of Brittanys on Tumblr. I guess we have to give the movie the benefit of the doubt that this Brittany found an inner strength to change her life for the better and stop being a fat, lazy slob. Wherever that motivation came from writer/director, Paul Downs Colaizzo doesn’t quite get it on screen.
What he gets on screen is that Brittany is a bit of a nasty character. She puts on a self-deprecating face that hides her self loathing, but she often isn’t a very nice person and is selfish throughout the film. One has to wonder why her newfound friends put up with some of her antics.
The Ugly: There is a scene in the film that almost sinks the whole affair. Brittany, as noted above, is kind of a jerk to many people in her life. But this incident is a whole other level. She viciously attacks a fat woman out of the blue during a birthday party with such cruelty and vitriol it takes one out of the film. It borders on one of those character destroying turns like with Alison Lohman in Drag Me to Hell where the protagonist becomes so unlikable it sinks the film.
One really has to wonder why Paul Downs Colaizzo put such a vicious scene in his film. Then it all comes clear. The fat woman, speaking directly to camera and breaking the fourth wall, tells us how she is happy with her body and her life and with being fat and all how all bodies are good no matter what their size. This speech is over the top pandering to the Brittany walks to the fridge for another Dove Bar crowd. The sentiment so goes against everything else in the rest of the film that one suspects the entire scene was crowbar’d in by a worried studio executive who wanted to avoid a fat shaming label on his uplifting indie film. It is as if in American History X one of the Nazi’s stopped in the middle of the film to talk to the audience about the benefits of not mixing the races.
In Conclusion: It is a testament to Jillian Bell’s talent that I rooted for her at the end of the film despite her being so unlikable for much of it. One could nitpick a hundred things in Brittany Runs a Marathon that would grind my gears in a lesser film. (The over the top villain of a roommate, Brittany’s financial situation seemingly changing from scene to scene), yet the film crosses the finish line a winner.
And despite that one misstep above kudos to writer/director Paul Downs Colaizzo who took a true story about his friend Brittany (who appears at the end). and turned it into an inspirational film that really nails the oh God what have I done with my life ennui that can plague one in their late twenties. (And thirties and forties, etc.)
Colaizzo really took some risks here. He must be very good friends with Brittany because his portrayal of her is not flattering. One thinks of how Susan Orlean must have felt the first time she saw the final cut of the Adaptation film. (On one hand, I am being played by Meryl Streep, on the other hand, apparently I am now a drug snorting porn actress.)
The real risk Colaizzo takes is going against the Healthy at any Size folks, the Fat Acceptance Movement, and the Body Positivity crowd. Here is a film that shows the positive outcome from focusing on improving oneself through diet and exercise. In some circles that point of view is bordering on hate speech. There is a lot of pressure on media to normalize obesity nowadays, so it is amazing that an otherwise progressive indie film would swim against that current. Being fit is better than being fat used to a one of those commonsense things that everyone knew. Brittany in the film is not a wealthier or nicer person after her journey. But she is happier with herself. And that is a good place as any to start the rest of your life.