Brittany Runs a Marathon starts off strong and finishes with a flourish of feels. But the “inspirational comedy” – inspired by true events – veers off course a few times as the film struggles with the same sort of identity crisis that plagues its lead character, Brittany Forgler (Jillian Bell). She’s funny. She’s misunderstood. She’s everyone’s best friend. She’s her own worst enemy. She’s motivational. She’s mean. She’s broken. She’s fixed.
Here’s the gist: At 27, Brittany is floundering. She works as a ticket-taker in a New York City theater, likes to drink and party, and lives with a seemingly self-absorbed skinny roommate in Astoria. One day, she goes to a new doctor in the hopes of scoring some Adderall, only to be told she is dangerously overweight and needs to get healthy. At the urging of a neighbor she doesn’t particularly like (Michaela Watkins), Brittany laces up her Converse sneakers and sweats her way down the street and around the block. The next day, it’s two blocks. Before you know it, she’s in a running group and setting a near-impossible goal: to run in the iconic New York City marathon.
There are ups and downs along the way. Obstacles to overcome. Relationships to build, destroy, rebuild.
Brittany eventually makes it to the big race, but the real message is in the journey itself.
Brittany Runs a Marathon was written and directed by award-winning playwright Paul Downs Colaizzo, making his screenwriting and directorial debut. He also happens to be real-life friends with the real-life Brittany and thus wanted to be the one to bring her story to the big screen (preserving the basic premise while taking significant liberties with the details.) You know what they say about the dangers of being too close to the material? I understand Colaizzo’s desire to preserve what he wrote by directing Brittany himself, though I can’t help but wonder if another, more experienced director might have delivered an even stronger film.
It’s possible (okay, highly likely) that my expectations were running a bit too high going into Brittany Runs a Marathon. The movie generated a lot of positive buzz on the festival circuit, even winning the 2019 Sundance Film Festival Audience Award. I can understand why. It’s witty, has a solid diverse cast, and does indeed inspire you to run. Or at least walk. Or pick your metaphorical marathon and take that first step.
I liked it; I just wasn’t blown away.
Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s time to get off my keester and stretch my legs. Baby steps.