Given the fact that Amazon Studios acquired Brittany Runs A Marathon for a hefty $14 million out of Sundance, one would think that there would perhaps be a deeper premise to the true-story comedy than a woman looking to change her outlook on life by running the New York marathon. But, we’re very much buying what we’ve been sold with Paul Downs Colaizzo’s pitch as the titular Brittany (Jillian Bell) does indeed run a marathon, though thankfully his script opts to delve beyond, delivering a fully rounded, universal story that’s likely to hit home with many a viewer.
For anyone that has struggled with their weight and/or body image – and, let’s face it, who hasn’t at this point – Brittany... will strike a nerve. But in addressing this issue under the enjoyable gloss of a lightweight-ish comedy means it’s never overly preachy, and the authenticity present in both Colaizzo’s script and Bell’s performance only further ensures our interest never wanes.
Brittany, the character, could’ve easily been styled up as one of those perfectly imperfect rom-com heroines whose looks and charm are undeniable but seemingly invisible to herself. We would cheer on her inevitable victory in conquering the 42km run that is the New York City Marathon, as well as barrack, or more likely tolerate a too-cute romance with an aesthetically pleasing leading man. And whilst several of these story beats aren’t entirely inaccurate, the film never plays out as we would expect it to. For starters, Brittany isn’t always the most likeable character, and highlighting her flaws runs the risk of alienating an audience who want to support her.
Having an actress like Bell embody Brittany is easily the film’s strongest asset, as she presents the character in an organic manner, never shying away from showing us what a real person looks like. Her personality and charm have clearly gotten her by – she’s often described as “the funny one” by her friends – but isn’t until a doctor sees through her facade that she’s presented with the wake-up call she so desperately needs but doesn’t want to accept; learning, at 28, that you’re considered obese can’t be the easiest note to hear.
And so begins her journey, one that starts off gradually with one running mile at a time, before she surprisingly finds comfort in the activity that drives her to consider running the aforementioned marathon. Given that many of us are likely to recognise fragments of ourselves in Brittany, it’s immensely easy to immediately support her as a character, from the initial exhilaration of noticing weight loss, through to the frustration and self-doubt we inflict on ourselves when the kilograms cease to drop off as easily as they once did, to the realisation that those we considered our closest friends aren’t necessarily as happy with the progress as you are, going so far as to harbour resentment for you, despite their own seemingly enviable figure.
As real as the film presents itself in the smaller, more true-to-life moments – one particularly rough scene sees Brittany dress-down a guest at a party who’s considerably over-weight herself – the humanity it harbours for its characters extends to the more conventional components of the story, namely Brittany’s friendship with a duo of fellow runners (Micah Stock, Michaela Watkins), as well as her own romantic arc with a co-worker of sorts (the particularly charming Utkarsh Ambudkar) that’s set-up in an almost stereotypical fashion but somehow manages to avoid being overtly saccharine.
An absolute winner of a movie that balances its comedic and dramatic components in an honest fashion, Brittany Runs A Marathon feels like a sleeper hit-in-the-making, one that manages to be inspiring and heartfelt without overdosing on the genre sugar one may expect from such an inspirational story.
Brittany Runs A Marathon is screening as part of the 2019 Sydney Film Festival (June 5th – 16th). Session times and festival information can be found here.