It is interesting how sometimes a movie creates a lot of buzz and expectation just to, after a disappointing delivery, have those expectations fulfilled but a much less celebrated film. The last time this happened to me was with The Beguiled, directed by Sofia Coppola with Nicole Kidman in the leading role. The movie danced around the idea of a strong woman who will do whatever it takes to survive in a violent and dangerous background, but never really gets there. Around the same time The Beguiled was released, Florence Pugh, who will soon get back to the big screen in Greta Gerwig’s Little Women, portrayed the strong and ruthless Katherine in the almost obscure Lady Macbeth (an adaptation of the 1865 Russian novella by Nikolai Leskov). I won’t expand much except to say that there is only so much violence and humiliation Katherine will quietly endure after being sold into marriage to a weak man and moved in with him and his abusive father.
All this to say that it has happened again, but with a very different kind of movie. When Amy Schumer’s I Feel Pretty was released, it was supposed to be a funny and empowering movie, led by a strong female character. It did not live up to the hype though. At the end, I Feel Pretty was little more than another film about an outsider who wants to fit in - in other words, who wants to become more conventionally pretty and date the cute guy. The newly-released movie Brittany Runs a Marathon is a simple and unpretentious movie that, nevertheless, manages to avoid this trap.
When we meet Brittany, she is drifting as a party girl approaching her thirties, unsatisfied with her job and surrounded by shallow, unreliable friends. When she goes to a doctor trying to score a prescription for Adderall, Brittany hears that her health is not doing well and she should lose around 50 pounds (or, as Brittany puts it, “to pull a median-size working dog” off of her body). She initially resists, but it gets harder and harder to pretend everything is fine with her life and Brittany reluctantly decides to take up running. By the end of the film, Brittany (no spoiler alert required here) runs the New York marathon. But it is not about the end, it is about what she learns on the way there.
Between that doctor visit and the marathon, Brittany may lose weigh and get a boyfriend, but that was never the goal and this is not her main achievement. It is not about external - and male - validation. Once she starts running, Brittany makes new friends, changes her relationship with her family, gets healthier, and manages to turn her life around. All that with some funny moments and others more serious and conflicting.
Starring former SNL writer Jillian Bell, Brittany Runs a Marathon is loosely based on the story of a friend of the movie’s screenwriter and director Paul Downs Colaizzo. What makes Brittany Runs a Marathon different from many makeover movies is that the most important relationship developed in the film is the one between Brittany and her unlikely new friends Catherine (Michaela Watkins) and Seth (Micah Stock), who support her and train with her for the marathon. Real-life marathon runners proved the camaraderie among the characters right when they kept “disturbing” the filming of Brittany’s marathon. Part of the movie was shot during the 2017 New York marathon and many fellow runners, who didn’t know Jillian Bell was acting in the scenes that Brittany struggled to complete the marathon, kept trying to help her, making it harder for the director to get the scenes he needed.
- Lalu Farias