I have a problem with films that advertise how inspirational they are. Whenever a trailer tells me exactly how I’m going to feel when watching a movie, I usually don’t think I need to view it. And plus, the subgenre of ‘inspirational film’ is one often relegated these days to faith-based cinema, which I avoid like the plague. However, every now and then something comes along that truly surprises me, and with that, I bring you Paul Downs Colaizzo’s exceptional rule-breaker Brittany Runs a Marathon.
Brittany (Jillian Bell) is an overweight and directionless New Yorker who goes to a doctor one day hoping to score Adderall and instead receives a wakeup call about how miserable her own health is. She decides to make an active and conscious effort to change her life for the better and lose weight. She reluctantly joins her neighbor Catherine (Michaela Watkins)’s running group, where she finds the inspiration to begin training for the New York City Marathon.
This film resonated with me in a way few do, and it’s the kind of rare cinema I’ll rewatch for the rest of my life. The idea of looking at your life and just feeling horrified by every aspect of yourself, and finding the strength to take control of that is a concept that I find genuinely relatable and inspiring. The film isn’t so much about Brittany’s journey of weight loss as it is her journey of self-actualization and learning what it means to feel truly fulfilled. Brittany has been coasting by in life in a way that has left her unhappy and empty. It’s so easy to fall into that kind of a rut, where you look in the mirror and don’t even recognize the person looking back at you.
Jillian Bell’s performance is nothing short of a revelation, and if there were any justice in the world, she would be in the awards conversation this winter. Bell is a comedic actor who has mostly played the comic relief sidekick and has certainly never been a lead. This is every bit as captivating a turn as Melissa McCarthy in Can You Ever Forgive Me? It’s a dramatic performance that doesn’t box its star in and doesn’t stop the funny lady from actually being funny. The script throws Brittany’s journey into places you don’t anticipate and she emerges as a fully realized character whom the audience is cheering on every step of the way.
This movie also gives all of its supporting characters fully fleshed out backstories and lives of their own, which is refreshing for this kind of movie. Brittany’s friend Seth (Micah Stock) is a character who could easily be dismissed as the gay-best-friend archetype, and the movie never condescends to him. Brittany is disgusted by her neighbor Catherine’s seemingly affluent way of life, only to, later on, discover how much more she has going on below the surface. Brittany and both of her friends feel like actual people and have positive and negative aspects to their personalities – you know – like everybody.
This is based on a true story from the life of writer/director Paul Downs Colaizzo’s best friend, a woman named Brittany O’Neill, who took control of her life and became an inspiring figure in his life in the process. As a result, this story feels deeply personal, and it never takes the easy way out. The script is sharp and unsentimental. There are big, broad laughs and earned tears. Brittany could be looked at through an antihero lens because not every decision she makes is what you’d call likable. But, she’s kind of a broken individual who is trying to do better, and there’s something profoundly comforting and authentic about that.