What inspirational fitness movies don’t tell you, is that the hardest part of running is stepping out the door the first time. In fact, the hardest part to changing the way you’ve been for most of your life or even just a year or two is taking the first step out and into change. That’s why I always cringe when I hear about fitspirational films. They’re often tropey, filled to the brim with body shaming, and they don’t understand what happens to someone who decides to get healthy in real life. But when I walked out of Brittany Runs A Marathon, I felt seen.
Distributed by Amazon Studios, Brittany Runs A Marathon, written and directed by Paul Downs Collazzio, doesn’t exaggerate the journey of change that happens when you realize you’re in danger. At 28, Brittany (Jillian Bell) is in a dead-end job that she’s always late to, she’s outgoing, and an overall laugh riot, but as her friends start hitting 30 and accomplishing things – even if it’s just a large following on Instagram and a boyfriend – she starts to look at herself.
When a trip to the doctor, to score a prescription for Adderall, instead holds up a mirror to her unhealthy life she has a choice: get healthy or end up losing years off of her life. As the title suggests, the rest of the film follows Brittany as she trains to run the New York City Marathon.
The premise is simple and to be honest, the weight loss journey as a narrative is one that has long been overplayed and disrespected in media. But here, Bell shines in a role that tackles the complexity of running, change, and realizing that the weight on the scale doesn’t equate to health. In fact, from the moment Brittany realizes that she needs to lose weight, the film removes itself from the “funny fat friend” trope and leans into the real struggle of being faced with your own detrimental lifestyles.
In the doctor’s office, it’s clear that Brittany isn’t there because of her weight. She’s there because she’s unhealthy. She’s sitting on that table because she’s hypertensive and has a high resting heart rate which can lead down a road to chronic health problems that can be prevented. Never once does it feel like we are ridiculing Brittany for being overweight, instead we’re pulled into how she thinks, the choices she makes, and ultimately her triumph in looking past a scale and to her life as a whole.
I know this because I am Brittany. Over the past two months, I’ve been struggling with health problems, and bad ones at that. I had been the heaviest I had ever been, the most sedentary, and the most passively destructive. It took almost collapsing on my floor from heart pains to realize that this couldn’t go on and over the last seven weeks I’ve made baby steps. I’ve kept moving toward a better self. Not a skinny self, but a healthy self. Like Brittany, I’m not looking to the fitspiriational movie ideal of 110 pounds, I’m just looking to be in a weight range that improves my personal quality of life. And it’s hard.
Before Brittany Runs a Marathon, examples of weight-loss films were overly comedic, ridiculing the protagonist’s starting point while glorifying the process of getting to the end. But here, Brittany struggles. Repeated throughout the film is the shot of Brittany walking to the door, hesitating, her hand hovering over the doorknob, her breath the focus of the shot. While it’s an effective mood setting shot, it’s also real. When you’re struggling to finish a set, to keep moving, your mind slings back to where you started.
The fear holds you still, it makes you think you can’t move forward, and as Brittany Runs A Marathon continues, we see this fear push her down. She falls, she self destructs, and she pushes herself too far and it all feels real. I’ve been there. I’ve felt the fear. I’ve self-destructed. And like Brittany, I’m trying to build myself back.
What keeps this film from a perfect rating is the Bell’s make-up through the film. While I wouldn’t qualify it as a fat-suit, the prosthetics used to add a small amount of weight to Bell’s character early on the movie is inconsistent, appearing heavier in some moments and scarce in others. That being said, this discrepancy can be explained by Bell’s actual weigh-loss while shooting the film.
Overall though, Bell’s performance is more than I ever expected. Known for her brand of loud, and in my opinion, obnoxious comedy, I expected this rated-R comedy to be all about dick jokes and bowel movements. But instead, the comedy comes from introspection, and ultimately uses Bell’s established comedic identity from things like Workaholics to establish a woman who uses comedy and obnoxious characteristics at the wrong times to shield herself from everything around her.
The ability of Collazzio to balance stand-up comedic talents with a heartfelt examination of what it means to change your life is to be applauded. From father figures to caring boyfriends, comedic talents are never just hilarious, as actors like Lil Rel Howery and Utkarsh Ambudkar prove to be more than just relief and instead bring emotion out in Bell’s character and from the audience.
While I don’t believe the film should be rated R, the use of language, including many f-bombs, is another point of authenticity. Cuss words aren’t just thrown for shock but instead, they’re how people really talk. Which furthers each character’s ability to draw empathy from the audience.
Overall, Brittany Runs A Marathon is what I needed right now. While some may write the film off as another in a long line of inspiration porn, it truly isn’t. There is a realism to the way the film showcases running. It’s brutal, it’s a time sucker, and you need to keep doing it while also keeping from hurting yourself. It also examines the ways your mental health is impacted by the change. It’s positive, but it’s also terrifying and can cause you to shut the world out and obsess over pounds.
Brittany Runs A Marathon is balanced, emotional, and ultimately a look at my own personal journey that I didn’t expect to see. Health scares are just that, and when your tests show that the variable is you and not your bad genes, it’s shocking. I’ve been there and this film does everything it can to highlight this experience in a way that is respectful and finishes strong while avoiding the pitfalls of the genre.
Brittany Runs A Marathon premieres nationwide August 23, 2019.
Kate is co-founder, EIC, and CCO of BWT. She’s also a Certified Rotten Tomatoes Critic, host, and creator of our flagship podcast, But Why Tho? and Did You Have To?. She also manages all PR relationships for comics, manga, film, TV, and anime. She has an MA in Cultural Anthropology and Religious Studies focusing on how pop culture impacts society.