Running a marathon is a near super-human feat, requiring months of training. Few things in life are harder — except self love and openness. Those two impulses — self love and openness — are at the heart of one of Sundance’s newest crowd pleasers: Brittany Runs a Marathon. Writer and director Paul Downs Colaizzo‘s film, an inspirational romantic comedy, sees a woman rescue herself — through friendship and the single goal of running the New York City Marathon — from loneliness.
The Amy Schumer character has become a kind of archetype (Schumer does not appear in this film), and Brittany: based on a real life person — certainly fits the actress’ physical and biting humor. Played by Jillian Bell, of 22 Jump Street fame, Brittany opens the film as hard drinking and unstable. Not until a visit to the doctor’s office is she told that her 31-32 BMI is way over the healthy 25. Instructed to live a fitter lifestyle, Brittany begins to run.
Colaizzo, in his screenplay, understands that the hardest step is the first one forward — literally and metaphorically. Because while significant time is spent watching Brittany run in increments, the larger arc of the film follows her as she takes the first steps in finding friends and losing would be nonbelievers. During her running, she meets Catherine (Michaela Watkins): a woman she suspects to be bougie — even as Catherine becomes a type of surrogate mother. Brittany also connects with Seth (Micah Stock) — leading to the three forming a jogging/training group — and later, a decision to run in the New York City Marathon.
While she trains, Brittany also finds a new job as a dog sitter for a wealthy couple who are never home. Here, she meets Jern (Utkarsh Ambudkar): a ne’er do well with the same job as her — except as the night shift. Jern stays in his employers’ lavish home, biding his time before he develops his own app. Brittany moves in as well, after a dispute with her roommate Gretchen (Alice Lee) — a woman who is a basic amalgamation of Brittany’s worst impulses and self doubts.
The film thrives on the effort Brittany puts into her training and the budding relationship between her and Jern. Colaizzo’s screenplay anticipates and actualizes all the insecurities a person like Brittany would have: someone who’s been told they’re not attractive because they don’t fit into a size-zero dress, someone with a fractured family. Lil Rel Howery is also in this film, playing Demetrius — a surrogate father to her.
As Brittany comes closer to her goal, her tendency to push her closest and most ardent supporters away emerges. Because separate from a medical standpoint — Brittany’s flaw isn’t her weight, it’s loving herself and trusting others. Colaizzo gingerly walks the thin line of presenting someone who wants to lose weight, without totally resorting to body shaming. He does so by displaying how fixated Brittany is on her scale, slavishly charting her day-to-day weight. He does so by examining her closest relationships. But mostly, Colaizzo accomplishes this sanguine feat by examining the psychological impact of a society that’s often told you that you’re not good enough.
When Brittany Runs a Marathon does conclude, in some respects, the race is secondary. What matters most is Brittany’s willingness to trust that people care for her, not because of what she looks like, but because of who she is. Colaizzo’s reliance on that authentic emotion: love — love of the self, is what makes Brittany’s awakening so earned and fulfilling. Brittany Runs a Marathon is a sincere and delightful pep talk for the soul.