We’ve all seen the “glow-up” movie. Female Lead with Unattractive Qualities loses the weight or meets the right man and suddenly all her problems are over! Yawn.
Brittany Runs a Marathon achieves what all other films of its kind cannot; it presents a truthful and complete discussion of what health and fitness (of mind and body) can look like. The film uplifts and inspires for all the right reasons and reaches for a higher standard. That distinction, let me tell you, makes all the difference.
In Brittany Runs a Marathon, a young woman living in New York endeavours to take control of her life – one block at a time. Setting a goal to finish the New York City marathon empowers her to conquer her insecurities about her body, her career, and her love life, while also helping her find a strength and determination that she never knew she had.
The film received warm reviews after successful runs at both the 2019 Sundance Film Festival and the Seattle International Film Festival and marks the directorial debut of noted playwright Paul Downs Colaizzo. The film stars Michaela Watkins, Utkarsh Ambudkar, with an incredibly strong ensemble of supporting characters, and Jillian Bell is hilarious and relatable as the titular Brittany.
In both film and most mainstream media, fitness and health is spoken of in terms of numbers on a scale, body shape and size, and illustrated in the form of supplements and green smoothies of a dubious nature. The conversation of total health is skewed in favour of just diet and exercise (mostly diet), which is further bent by an emphasis on weight loss and thinness. It’s what makes “glow-up” films so generally unappealing. A character getting thin or becoming more “conventionally” attractive is not necessarily a relatable or realistic solve for mental and physical health. The growth, like beauty, is only skin deep.
The discussion of health and fitness in Brittany Runs a Marathon is one of the most honest and comprehensive looks at health, and reclaiming health, that has been put to film. I mean that. We’re introduced to Brittany (Jillian Bell), a total mess of a person, and get a very clear look at her truly unhealthy life. Sure, she’s overweight, but she also makes poor eating choices and doesn’t maintain a consistent sleep schedule. She wears her insecurity like a blinking sign on her forehead and hides behind a wall of humour and meaningless sexual encounters. She self-medicates her pain in all the wrong ways.
We all know the old-age saying that “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step,” and it comes down to Brittany taking one step that will set off the chain of events that will impact the rest of her life. At first, it’s packaged as the simple solution of “go for a run and lose some weight.” The emphasis, however, and the benefit that we see is not linked to the weight loss.
Brittany starts running. And then she makes friends. And those friends support her in her goals. And she starts adapting a healthier sleep schedule to accommodate her running. And she makes better food choices. And, suddenly, she’s on a path that no one could have predicted.
With all these physical changes, her mind follows. Brittany finally has the confidence to recognise when people are dragging her down in life. She loves herself for the first time in a long time and she has the motivation and drive to seek out a better job opportunity and find a new relationship, along the way. Her journey is messy, but that’s what makes it so great.
So far, you may be thinking that Brittany Runs a Marathon is still following the formula of the glow-up movie but with a more wholesome approach. But, that’s where you’re wrong.
What Brittany Runs a Marathon understands, that other films of the kind get wrong, is that progress is never-ending. When you’re making a new and better life, it’s not something you pick up and commit to for a month and then you’re done. It’s a lifestyle. A crucial moment in the film comes when Brittany, glowing and at her goal weight, falls short of a goal and immediately plummets back to her lowest and most insecure self.
She starts drinking again, she bullies a plus size family member, and she drives home what we all secretly know: Being skinny doesn’t solve anyone’s problems. The traditional glow-up formula pretends that the confidence of a transformation is enough to guarantee your happiness forever. The truth is that we’re a constant work in progress and even those who “have it all” have a lot to face, at the end of the day. It’s so refreshing for a film to acknowledge that and to allow for that kind of vulnerability in an inspirational story.
Beyond being inspirational and a damn solid take on improving ourselves, Brittany Runs a Marathon is warm and funny! The writing in the film is stellar and Bell’s performance ensures that every joke sticks the landing. The character of Brittany is equal parts relatable and tragic. We know her, maybe we’ve been her. She’s doing so well but we can see her struggle under the pressure.
When dealing with a character like that the importance of the right actress can’t be stressed enough and, in the eyes of this critic, this performance will long be remembered as one of Jillian Bell’s very best.
Brittany Runs a Marathon is a film that we’ve all needed, at one point or another. It more than earns the privilege of the viewer’s time and I can offer it my warmest recommendation.
Brittany Runs a Marathon is out in cinemas everywhere on September 13
by Caitlin Kennedy
Caitlin is a sweater enthusiast, film critic, and lean, mean writing machine based in Austin, TX. Her love of film began with being shown Rosemary’s Baby at a particularly impressionable age and she’s been hooked ever since. She loves a good bourbon and hates people who talk in movies. Caitlin has been writing since 2014 and you can find her work on Film Inquiry, The Financial Diet, Shuffle Online, and many others. Follow her on Twitter at @CaitDoes