[Review] ‘BRITTANY RUNS A MARATHON’ a winning, self-improvement comedy that takes many steps

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Travis Leamons // Film Critic

BRITTANY RUNS A MARATHON

Rated R, 104 minutes.
Director: Paul Downs Colaizzo
Cast: Jillian Bell, Michaela Watkins, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Micah Stock, Lil Rel Howery and Alice Lee

“I’m not a runner.”

This is a phrase my friend Karen messages me whenever she does a workout that includes running intervals or trying to achieve a personal best. She may not consider herself a runner, but she is one of the fittest people I know. Though, she’d likely disagree. But here’s the thing about fitness: It is not the same thing as being happy and well. As someone who once tipped the scale at more than 250 pounds and feared where my life was going in terms of health, I took a long, hard look in the mirror and decided to do something — a path to wellness, not fitness. While I have never attempted to do a full marathon, like the title character in Amazon Studios’ latest comedy, the concept behind its practice is a great metaphor for life and improving oneself.

Brittany (Jillian Bell) is a 27-year-old Philadelphia transplant that had great aspirations when she got an internship for a well-regarded New York advertising firm. She was ready to take a bite out of the Big Apple, only the apple bit back – and hard. Once a social climber, Brittany falls off the wagon. Nights of partying, drinking, and bad food choices make her a groggy mess and consistently late to her dead-end, ticket taker job at some off-Broadway theater.

That woman with aspirations is gone, replaced with a woman that traipses through life rudderless and unsure what the future holds. Future becomes a reality when a physician points out her high blood pressure, BMI stats, and needing to lose 55 pounds. Nobody wants to have the truth pointed out to them, especially when it comes to weight. Yet, such affirmations can lead to change, tipping the scale in your favor, both literally and figuratively. So begins Brittany’s journey to reshaping her life.

BRITTANY RUNS A MARATHON is not an endorsement to put on a pair of sneakers, head outside, and go trudging around the block. But that’s precisely what Brittany does. Is it the best way? Doesn’t matter. The journey to self-improvement has many steps and paths to take. For Brittany, it means asking for help from the running-enthusiast neighbor (Michaela Watkins) who lives in the apartment below. The twosome becomes three when they add another trying-to-get-into-shape running buddy (Micah Stock). As new people enter her life, including Jern (Utkarsh Ambudkar), who she encounters during a house-sitting gig, Brittany slowly works through her struggles while facing new obstacles. Running is like that. Paths change. Some go up, others down. Some are jagged and uneven. Sometimes you keep going in circles. Life is like that, too.

The movie provides us with those painful first steps on the road to fitness. Working to lose what adds up to about 13 or 15 MacBook Pros (her description, not mine), Brittany also needs to unload the emotional baggage that is dragging her down. But it’s not like pulling off a Band-Aid. The process is difficult, especially for someone as insecure as Brittany. Lashing out towards those who call her friend, being cruel and selfish, and even sabotaging her own progress. And yet we want to empathize with Brittany. She is like us, and we are like her. Imperfect.

The innate charm of Paul Downs Colaizzo’s debut comedy is how he isn’t prompting you to laugh at Brittany and her struggles with weight. Part of that is because his comedy is inspired by a childhood friend (also named Brittany) whom he grew up with in Georgia. They would reconnect in their 20s and room together in New York. It was during this time Paul saw the changes Brittany was making in her life, including taking up running.

Downs Colaizzo channels those experiences in writing a story that doesn’t feel like it’s from the male perspective. Part of the credit has to go to Jillian Bell, who – after being a member of the Groundlings comedy troupe, writing for SNL, appearing in various TV comedies and movies (breaking out in 22 JUMP STREET) – turns in a star-making performance in her first leading role. She is the perfect muse, ably nailing Brittany’s vulnerability, giving credence to the chaotic life she lives.

BRITTANY RUNS A MARATHON is not a comedy about getting thin. It is about transformation, inside and out. Renowned author Haruki Murakami sums it up best in his 2008 memoir WHAT I TALK ABOUT WHEN I TALK ABOUT RUNNING: “An unhealthy soul requires a healthy body.” Achieve both; however, you see fit.

Grade: B

BRITTANY RUNS A MARATHON is now playing in select theaters.

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