Debut feature avoids typical pitfalls of self-improvement genre

Film | by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

Brittany Runs a Marathon
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4 out of 5

Writer/director Paul Downs Colaizzo walks a fine line with this indie feature. On one hand, the idea of an overweight 20-something woman with self-esteem issues who betters herself through exercise comes close to a Thigh Master infomercial. On the other hand, the fact the lead becomes more unpleasant the thinner she gets can be considered reverse body-shaming.

Thankfully, Colaizzo transcends both traps. Brittany Runs a Marathon is not about weight loss, it’s about self-acceptance.

Brittany (Jillian Bell, the stealth villain in 22 Jump Street) is an underemployed, profoundly unhappy New Yorker who remains socially viable by being up for anything and embracing the mantle of “the funny one”.

A check-up reveals that Brittany’s weight has become a health issue and her doctor recommends exercise. After flirting with an epic pity-party, the lead reluctantly recognizes the need for reinvention and takes up running.

Alas, the process comes with a new set of challenges, like re-entering the dating scene, establishing relationships with people she once discounted, and dealing with friends who don’t seem to like her much now that she’s on the road to being healthy and sober.

While this territory has been explored to death by rom-coms, Brittany Runs a Marathon never goes for the low hanging fruit or adopts a patronizing tone. There are laughs to be had, but all based on reality and accompanied by a pang of sorrow.

Bell does an impeccable job of embodying every station in Brittany’s journey, and succeeds at keeping her relatable even at her worst. After a lifetime of being judged, a healthier Brittany feels entitled to do some judging of her own.

Credit goes to Colaizzo too. He doesn’t shy away from complexity (Brittany longs for companionship, but pushes away those willing to give it) or psychological jargon. He may lean too often on speechifying, but for the most part it’s an impressive first feature that doesn’t unfold as expected, and manages to provide an emotionally satisfying conclusion — one I never saw coming.