Brittany Runs A Marathon

**1/2

Reviewed by: Jane Fae

Brittany Runs A Marathon
"The problem - and it's a massive, elephant in the room style problem - is that it is very hard to tell whether this is a woke film trapped in a judgemental body or vice-versa." | Photo: Courtesy of Sundance Film Festival

Uplifting. Inspiring. Quirky. Funny. These are all words used by other reviewers about Brittany runs a Marathon and, I can see why. After all, this is the uplifting (natch!) tale of twenty-something fat girl, Brittany (Jillian Bell) who gets bad news from her doctor. “You're fat!”

“And your liver is fat, too!”

After a short interlude of self-pity, during which Brittany pauses only to drink, scoff and binge the occasional recreational drug, she has a light-bulb moment. Yes, she will start running. Except, her first outing, involving a traumatic encounter with a pretzel stall, is so emotion-laden that she turns tail and heads straight back to bed.

Throw in a few more negatives or, as some might call them, cliches - she's funny. Very funny. Because as we all know, fat girls only survive by becoming the class comedian. Only her sense of humour is little help in obtaining any sort of decent paying employment. So she's broke. And she snores. And she's tired all the time. And she's irresponsible. And she won't let anyone else help her. And... and... and...

Are you getting the picture?

But what is this? Salvation is at hand in the form of neighbour and mother - or at least big sister - figure, Catherine (Michaela Watkins). Imparting the eternal wisdom that Brittany needs to set small goals and progress one step at a time, she is soon out of the house and joining in with a local running group.

There are ups and downs, including a falling out with old friends who, the film makes clear, were really just a bunch of wasters who never much cared for Brittany anyway. And there is Jern (Utkarsh Ambudkar), also a bit of a waster, but a well-intentioned one, who achieves his own personal redemption through a sweet, fumbling, on and off relationship with Running Girl.

And over all, sits one long redemption arc, the premise set out in the film's title: Brittany's determination that she will achieve her personal goal, and run in the New York marathon. It is probably not much of a spoiler to reveal that in the end, she does. After all, this is meant to be a feel-good film and the pay-off is not in the ending, so much as the way that its hero overcomes obstacles, including her own self-preconceptions, to reach the finishing line and personal hallelujah moment.

The problem - and it's a massive, elephant in the room style problem - is that it is very hard to tell whether this is a woke film trapped in a judgemental body or vice-versa. Given the crew assembled, my suspicion is that the intention is the former. There are some genuinely funny moments, courtesy of writer and director Paul Downs Colaizzo, while Bell absolutely aces the title role. Respect to her for the fact that she allegedly lost 40 pounds in the course of shooting this film: rather less respect for the continuity crew as, whether a trick of lighting or make-up, there are points later in the film where the supposedly thinner Brittany suddenly morphs back into fat Brittany.

Still, there is a great deal here that is well done.

The question remains, though, did anyone at any point step back and question whether the sum of the parts amounted to something much less than the total? Never wonder, with all the hype about “inspiration” and “personal goals”, if they weren't delivering something that frequently dipped into outright toxicity?

Intent, as they say, is not magical, no matter how it is dressed up, did it occur to no-one that this film, with its outright mockery of Brittany at the start, its remorseless deconstruction of her life choices, and its later obsession with her weight and body image, is a feel-good movie for the fit crowd?

The point is, that Brittany is a mess on many levels, psychological as well as physical. She has Issues with a capital I, around personal esteem, dependence, responsibility. You name it, Brittany has it. And sure, her weight is partly at the centre of these issues. But more than hinted at here (and this is, allegedly, a film based on a true life story) is the circularity of these things. Its going to take more than getting thin to sort Brittany out.

But that is not the over-arching message. Rather, the film kicks off with a barrage that makes it pretty clear that fat is disgusting or, when not actually disgusting, to be laughed at. And fat people can get better by getting thin. The end.

This is inspiration porn for the already inspired, an affirmation of a particular way of life, with little examination of and very little curiosity about the barriers encountered by those who have failed to save themselves.

To date, the film has reviewed well. So apologies for breaking from the pack. On the other hand, the screening I attended included not just film types, but also runners. The sort of person who, one suspects, might nod wisely along with every positive life-affirming statement and, since it is about learning to be just like them, see no issue with it at all.

One wonders what the response would have been had the audience also included a cross-section of the chronically unfit and overweight. Would they have been quite so inspired?

Reviewed on: 01 Nov 2019
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Brittany Runs A Marathon packshot
A woman living in New York takes control of her life – one city block at a time.

Festivals:

Sundance 2019

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