No movie title could be as simultaneously accurate and misleading as Brittany Runs a Marathon. It’s not technically inaccurate as the story follows a woman named Brittany who does, spoiler alert, eventually run a marathon. But its emotional core and the majority of the running time is dedicated to everything but the actual marathon.
The movie opens with Brittany (Jillian Bell), a funny and intensely guarded woman in her late twenties who spends her days working at a run-down theater company and her nights either drinking wine, downing boxes of donuts, or both. She is also considered overweight. When she goes to a doctor in Brooklyn to try and procure Adderall, her doctor instead slams her with the news that she needs to start making some lifestyle changes for her health. She initially rejects his claims, saying everybody is beautiful and didn’t he listen to those Dove ad campaigns? However, when she returns home to her small-time beauty vlogger roommate (Alice Lee), she can’t shake his words. A few days later, she tries to go on her first run.
I use the word “try” not because she doesn't run far or struggles heavily but because she can't get herself to leave her apartment stoop. Dressed in the closest thing she has to workout clothes, she sees her reflection and suddenly becomes intensely conscious of her surroundings. She sees women much more fit than her running by and feels the man at the hot dog stand staring at her. She quickly abandons her plan and runs into her kitchen to binge on more food. The next day, however, she repeats the process but this time successfully runs around the block. She joins a running group with her neighbor, Catherine (Michaela Watkins), and meets a friend, Seth (Micah Stock).
The movie focuses less on the actual act of running the marathon but more on the toll that preparation takes on her. She starts to lose weight very rapidly as she slowly begins to settle into healthier habits. Brittany soon realizes that losing weight doesn’t solve most of the problems she thought it would. In fact, it seems to not solve any at all. She still works two dead-end jobs, uses humor as a defense mechanism, and, despite her undeniably increased self-esteem, can’t seem to accept that other people genuinely care about her.
Brittany realizes more holistic changes are necessary for growth and begins to focus less on her size. She starts feeling her best when she cuts off toxic friends, embraces a more stable lifestyle, and gets her career on track. These things came as a byproduct of the confidence that running gave her, but the movie is clear that her growth transcended her fitness goals.
The plot is interesting, dedicating time to a character with a lot of complicated baggage, but Jillian Bell’s portrayal of Brittany makes the film is a must-see. She has proved herself in shows such as Workaholics and movies like 22 Jump Street, but in this, she is phenomenal. She brings a full range of emotions necessary to create real depth and empathy in a character.
Brittany Runs a Marathon seeks to unearth what we want to push to the side. It places a plus-sized woman front and center, instead of relegating her to the position of a funny sidekick. It demonstrates how the path to reach our goals is likely not linear. Most importantly, it shows the painfully slow process of change and how important making that first step is, even if it takes a few tries.