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ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

Brittany Runs a Marathon

Jillian Bell puts her heart, soul and gift for witty quips into this hilarious and highly relatable feel-good comedy.
By Sarah Ward
October 31, 2019
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Brittany Runs a Marathon

Jillian Bell puts her heart, soul and gift for witty quips into this hilarious and highly relatable feel-good comedy.
By Sarah Ward
October 31, 2019
  shares

Everyone has a friend who goes on a fitness kick, then won't stop talking about it. Suddenly your brunch dates are scheduled around training sessions and optimal heart rates come up in every conversation. That isn't Brittany Forgler (Jillian Bell). The New Yorker barely has the energy to start exercising, and she certainly doesn't want to keep nattering on about it. And while Brittany Runs a Marathon focuses on the avid partygoer's highly out-of-character wellness campaign, the feel-good comedy actually sports a similar attitude — because as enormous a feat as attempting to run a marathon is, it's only one part of Brittany's life.

Basing his debut feature on his best friend, playwright-turned-filmmaker Paul Downs Colaizzo spends plenty of time cheering Brittany's efforts. Flags are waved and encouragement is yelled — by her new running pals Catherine (Michaela Watkins) and Seth (Micah Stock) and, metaphorically, by the movie itself. But while the story plays out largely as every underdog sports flick has trained audiences to expect, there's a deeper, darker core to this upbeat and amusing affair. Come for a wry spin on all the usual training montages, keep watching as Brittany progresses from groaning through a slow jog around the block to willingly skipping boozing for exercise, then stay for a perceptive exploration of the tough marathon that is finding self-acceptance.

Indeed, late in this likeable movie, there's a scene that sums up the film's true focus — and it makes for purposefully uneasy viewing. Seething with pain and devastation, it has nothing to do with running through the streets. At a birthday party for her sister's (Kate Arrington) husband (Lil Rel Howery), Brittany starts talking to a couple. They appear mismatched, she's had a few drinks, and so she asks an awkward, inappropriate question. It doesn't go down well, but it's clear that Brittany isn't trying to judge or be cruel to those around her. Rather, by pondering aloud how a man she deems attractive could love a woman with a fuller figure, she's voicing the harsh mindset that she has always directed internally.

Charting Brittany's attempts to improve her health on medical orders, and then to put one foot after the other during New York's 42-kilometre endurance test, Brittany Runs a Marathon dives into its protagonist's damaging opinion of herself. The film is filled with humour — and many, many running scenes — but, primarily, it's the cinematic manifestation of the idea that to help yourself, you actually have to like yourself . For too long, Brittany has been the funny sidekick. She constantly cracks jokes at her own expense, whether at work, on dates, or with the doctor she's trying to convince to prescribe her Adderall. She's also fantastic at self-sabotage, as her fledgling romance with fellow underachieving twenty-something Jern (Utkarsh Ambudkar) shows. Those habits are hard to break, so Brittany Runs a Marathon confronts Brittany's flagging self-esteem one sweaty step at a time.

It's a beauty and wellness industry cliché — the type trotted out to sell soap, as Brittany skewers — but loving the skin you're in is hard. It's also tricky to convey on-screen in an authentic fashion (and no, instant makeovers where someone removes their glasses to reveal they're really a bombshell don't count). Brittany Runs a Marathon turns the task into a physical slog, with viewers witnessing every grimace and struggle, then feeling the exhilaration when its reluctant protagonist gets comfortable pounding the pavement — and, of course, when she does what the title tells us she's going to do. There's a reason that writer/director Colaizzo is happy to spoil the outcome in the movie's moniker, after all: running the New York marathon isn't the film's only point.

As astute as it proves in exploring Brittany's battle with her inner demons and millennial malaise in general, Brittany Runs a Marathon has its star to thank for striking such an affecting chord. A scene-stealer in 22 Jump Street, Rough Night and Workaholics, Bell puts her heart, soul and gift for witty quips into this thoughtful and funny movie — and ensures that every step that Brittany takes, both in the right and wrong directions, feels genuine. That sensation sets this crowd-pleaser apart from other recent comedies about women trying to gain confidence in their own shoes, such as Amy Schumer-starring misfire I Feel Pretty. Nothing here is calculated, cynical, exaggerated or muddled; rather, it's relatable, realistic and even inspirational. Forget running — sure, you might leave the cinema eager to jog a marathon yourself, but being kinder to yourself is the bigger achievement.

Brittany Runs a Marathon screens in cinemas from Thursday, October 31, and will also stream via Amazon Prime Video from Friday, November 15.

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