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Review: Brittany Runs a Marathon

August 30, 2019

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

Brittany (Jillian Bell) is a pretty typical millennial in her late-twenties. She drinks too much and doesn’t follow the best diet, decisions that are partially fuelled by deep insecurity, feeling like everyone around her is moving forward in terms of relationships and having kids as she remains stuck in place.

After a visit to the doctor (Patch Darragh) reveals that she is clinically overweight, has a high BMI and is at risk for fatty liver disease, Brittany decides to get fit by taking up running, spurred on by her goal of running the New York City Marathon, both as a personal challenge to herself and to prove to those around her that she can actually do it.

She is joined in this challenge to run the marathon by her upstairs neighbour Catherine (Micheala Watkins), a photographer whom Brittany initially writes off as a snooty rich woman but becomes an unlikely confidante to her, as well as Seth (Micah Stock), a man that she meets at a local running group who is trying to get in better shape for the sake of his husband and kids. But there are various obstacles standing in her way, both internal and external, that she must overcome in order to finally make it across the finish line.

This is the setup for the very aptly titled Brittany Runs a Marathon, a winning, based on a true story dramedy that earns every single one of the emotional responses it elicits. Bell’s performance is what anchors the film. Brittany is the sort of character who has a tendency to push people away if she feels like they are getting too close, and Bell does a great job of making her both empathetic and relatable. A big key to the film’s success comes from the fact that, even when Brittany is purposefully isolating herself, Bell ensures that she always remains both sympathetic and understandable. Brittany is flawed, sure, and sometimes her own pain causes her to lash out and hurt others, but she is also an inherently likeable character who we are happy to root for.

Watkins brings a nice sense of depth to her supporting role, and Stock also deserves credit for bringing extra dimension to what could have been a stereotypical gay best friend character. Lil Rel Howry delivers standout supporting work with his funny and touching portrayal of Brittany’s brother-in-law Demetrius, who serves as a surrogate paternal figure to her, having helped raise her after her mother died and her own father became despondent. The cast is rounded out by Utkarsh Ambudkar, who delivers an amusing performance as Brittany’s unlikely love interest Jern, a perpetual slacker and man-child that she meets while dog-sitting at a rich couple’s house.

The screenplay by Paul Downs Colaizzo, who also directs the film, does a commendable job of handling self-esteem and body image issues, sharing a message of body positivity while also encouraging healthy living choices. While it’s often easy to see where the film will finally end up, there are enough pitfalls and obstacles along the way to keep the story engaging, and Brittany’s journey to cross the finish line is one fraught with unique challenges and growing pains. This is a genuinely funny and at times genuinely moving film, building towards a rousing climax that feels both earned and authentic as we root for our protagonist to finally do what the title suggests. It’s a true feel good movie.

Brittany Runs a Marathon is now playing in limited release in theatres across Canada.

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