Brittany Runs a Marathon has something to say, and it might be better than anything said in any other movie I’ve seen this year. At the very least, it has something new to say, something far too many people still need to learn. You don’t just have to learn how to be nice to people. You should also learn how to let people be nice to you. As Brittany’s brother-in-law who also doubled as a father figure tells her, if someone offers you support, you should accept it.
That might seem like an oversimplified platitude, but it’s astonishing how many people actively reject such a notion. It’s a sinister form of insecurity, where it’s an easy conviction to care for others, but impossible to accept the care of others. That would require a fully realized self-worth, to recognize that you deserve it, just as much as anyone you care about does.
That is, essentially, the journey Brittany (Jillian Bell) takes, in the process of getting her unraveling late-twenties life together. Given the wise advice of starting with “small steps,” Brittany gets into running by first achieving the goal of running to the end of the block. This blossoms into a borderline obsession with training well enough to run the New York City Marathon.
She meets people and develops relationships along the way, dismissing their gestures of kindness at every turn, always convinced she is being pitied or judged or both. Her upstairs neighbor (Michaela Watkins). The similarly struggling runner she connects with (Micah Stock). The “nighttime” guy at the house where she’s dog sitting (Utkarsh Ambudkar), with whom she has immediate sexual chemistry. Brittany even makes misguided assumptions about her roommate (Alice Lee), who actually has very similar insecurities of her own, just borne of different sources. These are all people with their own problems.
In other words, everyone is fucked up; Brittany is just too self-involved to see it — an ironic element typical of insecurity. As the whole of the story in Brittany Runs a Marathon unfolded, I found myself increasingly thinking it should be required viewing, for everyone really, but especially for those suffering debilitating insecurities — this movie could be their Bible. It could have been my Bible, twenty years ago. Would it have opened my mind at all about such things had I seen it then, I wonder?
I rather wish writer-director Paul Downs Colaizzo better fleshed out Brittany’s relationships with all these friends she makes, especially with Seth the gay running buddy. Still, the more I think about this movie, the more I decide I love it, and it’s uniquely inspired message. I love the idea of saying “You’re worth it!” as opposed to just “You should be better!”, which is the message of most “feel-good” movies. This is a feel-good movie unlike any other, with plenty of painfully awkward moments, such as when a self-loathing Brittany at a particularly low point manages to shame an overweight woman at a family birthday party.
That particular scene is inspired in its own way too, as it keeps Brittany Runs a Marathon from just being about a young woman who “sees the light” and loses fifty pounds. Colaizzo also takes care to show us another woman who, while freely admitting to her own pain and struggles, also happens to have worked to overcome such challenges and finding happiness without it hinging on weight loss. Because the “power of weight loss” is not what this movie is about; it’s simply about getting your shit together. And, of course, seeing your own value.
And in the end, once Brittany actually runs the New York City Marathon (which was shot during the real race in 2017, itself a uniquely impressive technical achievement), Colaizzo’s film, inspired by a similar real-life story of his roommate of the same name, proves to be so moving, you’re going to want to have plenty of tissues handy. The trailers for Brittany Runs a Marathon are slightly misleading in their characterization of the film as a straight-up comedy; Brittany is a very funny woman, to be sure — something she often uses as a defense mechanism. But this movie is more of a dramedy, and one that very much succeeds on its own terms. Anyone quickly dismissive of it needs to check their own cynicism, because this movie has no time for it, which makes it a breath of fresh air.