Brittany Runs a Marathon
103, R, 103 min. Directed by Paul Downs Colaizzo. Starring Jillian Bell, Michaela Watkins, Micah Stock, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Lil Rel Howery.
REVIEWED By Matthew Monagle, Fri., Aug. 30, 2019
Like most millennials in New York City, Brittany (Bell) is barely treading water. While she may have a roommate she loves and a job she tolerates, no amount of alcohol and recreational drug use can keep Brittany from feeling like she’s a step behind all of her peers. So when her doctor raises questions about her health during a Yelp-inspired physical, Brittany decides to take her personal health into her own hands and start a regular running routine. Unfortunately, Brittany finds that the closer she gets to her ideal body weight, the harder she is on both herself and the friends and family members who want to offer her their support.
For fans of romantic comedies, one of the biggest pleasures of Brittany is seeing how a contemporary filmmaker works within the confines of the genre without sacrificing an ounce of body positivity. Early in the film, when Brittany is confronted with potential issues regarding her fitness, her physician makes it clear that he’s only working against BMI benchmarks because she left the family medical history section of her paperwork blank. This is an important piece of nuance in how the film – and, therefore, the audience – regards Brittany’s weight. Even in its earliest moments, her wellness routine is entirely anchored in external perceptions.
The film also spends an important amount of time establishing both Catherine (Watkins) and Seth (Stock) as more than just Brittany’s running cheerleaders. Each person uses marathon training as an outlet for their own frustrations and insecurities; Catherine is locked in a grueling divorce and runs to retain some small amount of control over her life, while Seth runs to prove to his young son that he can be a source of strength in his life. They may credit Brittany with inspiring them to sign up for the marathon, but their reasons for training for – and potentially completing – the race are their own. Whatever closure Brittany will find at the end of the film cannot come in the form of external validation.
Nestled at the heart of this self-care narrative is a tender romance between Brittany and Jern (Ambudkar), the handsome freeloader who takes up permanent residence in her client’s townhouse. Both characters have given up in their own ways – Brittany in love, Jern in life – and their initial apathy toward each other is rooted in their shared use of humor as a coping mechanism. Bell and Ambudkar have endless chemistry, allowing their gentle back-and-forth to slowly evolve into the fledgling relationship that all of us – and even some of the film’s secondary characters – see coming from a mile away. While both may have some work to do on themselves, they tend to bring out the best in each other, a solid foundation for any 21st century love story.
And this is ultimately where the film pulls up short. For as much as Brittany Runs a Marathon wants its characters to grapple with tough challenges – issues of body positivity, family dysfunction, and depression – it also seems unwilling to commit itself to a single satisfying resolution. Brittany hedges its bets, offering us both the pragmatic ending and the happy ending with only a single title card in the middle (“One Year Later”) left to do the heavy lifting. After more than 90 minutes of quiet truths about life and self-love, watching everything come together so neatly in the waning moments is a bit of a shock to the system. Brittany certainly deserves a happy ending, just perhaps not quite in the time allotted.