Brittany Runs a Marathon is the feel-good movie of this end-of-decade. Winner of the 2019 Sundance Film Festival Audience Award, it features Jillian Bell as Brittany, a witty and overweight 27-year-old seeking for validation in a hostile pitch-perfect Manhattan landscape. Colaizzo’s debut comedy deftly touches many dramatic peaks, and yet insists on flirting with stereotypes.
Try to imagine what would come out of the combination of Amy Schumer, Bridget Jones and Rocky, and you’ll have Brittany. The opening sequence introduces you to your new favourite underdog protagonist: Fairly overweight Brittany is late for work and is attempting to jump on the shiny silver NYC subway train. She is (kind of) running, and shouts to the passengers to hold the doors. Nobody does, so the doors close, leaving her like a wreck on the platform.
Brittany is young, witty and lives in Manhattan with her best friend. She works at a theatre, spends her evenings dancing in nightclubs, and she’s always putting on a happy face. At least, that’s what she exhibits on her social media profiles. In reality, she’s desperately facing a quarter-life crisis, and swims in a constant search for some sort of validation from anyone, unaware that the only person it should come from is herself. In fact, she is constantly seen holding a glass of red wine, always interviewing for new jobs and subsequently getting turned down; settling for a toxic relationship with her best friend, and, lastly, she has also just developed an addiction to Adderall. And she’s pretty fine with all of this.
Until she’s not. Her life is a complete mess, on the verge of a breakdown. It’s about time that Brittany sets her life straight, and all she needs is a catalysing event to bring her to self-awareness. Still with nightclub stamps on her hand from the wild night before, she walks into the doctor’s office, expecting to get an Adderall prescription. What the doctor prescribes her, instead, is something quite different: getting healthy and losing 55 pounds. Her answer is memorable: “That is the weight of a Siberian Husky. You want me to pull a medium-size working dog off of my body?!”. I told you that Bridg-, sorry, Brittany’s rhetoric is witty. So, like a revelation by the book, here comes the wake-up call that she was waiting for. She takes a look at the mirror and compares what she sees to the ‘obese’ voice in the BMI chart, as pointed to her by the doctor, only to find a correspondence.
After gaining self-consciousness, she can start off with a clean slate, proceeding to question every choice she has ever made. This means that she starts focussing on herself and on her health, she takes up running, and she gradually distances herself from the toxic relationships in her life. Under those extra pounds, she discovers the most unexpected of all surprises: her femininity. These are, my fellow readers, the purest and most intimate moments of the whole movie. It’s the breaking of the fourth wall, when the main character stares at you from behind the camera addressing the universal experience of the unveiling of one’s sexuality. Allow yourself to reminisce that magical moment — Brittany is here to guide you through.
Her detox process inevitably comes to merge with the art of running- the constant setting of a short-range goal (“Until the end of the block”), and the subsequent raising of the stakes (“Now some other 3 blocks!”). So, the more blocks she’s now able to run and the more she loses weight, the more we know for certain that her life is getting in order. It’s a simplistic and stereotypical equation, but it does work in this comedy.
As the title asserts, Brittany sets her goal for the marathon, intending to finish it, but that’s only the bottom-line of the story. The movie is never really about the marathon, insomuch as the NYC marathon becomes a symbol for Brittany’s self-determination – and the idea of the finish line comes to transparently represent Rocky’s conquest on the top of the stairs. Is it a coincidence that both characters are originally from Philly?
Brittany Runs a Marathon marks the directorial debut of Paul Downs Colaizzo, up until now a playwright. Thus, it can be said that the movie is affected by Colaizzo’s theatrical past, writing-wise. Every little scene appears as a self-standing sketch, only later juxtaposed with the following. Which is not bad, but a problem arises: there are just too many sub-plots and background stories to follow on-screen. Especially considering the of Amazon Prime Video’s small-screen distribution, conceived for a distractive and fragmented viewing.
Smartly written, funny, and attentive, the comedy is inevitably compared to a present-day Bridget Jones’s Diary – no belittlement intended, but the references are all there in broad daylight. If Netflix recently added Bridget to its catalogue, then Brittany is Amazon’s reply. Add both Amy Schumer’s looks and humour and Rocky’s inspirational story and you’ll obtain a florid and hilarious commingle, and that is Brittany Runs a Marathon.
Brittany Runs a Marathon premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, where it won the Audience Award. It is now playing in select theatres everywhere, and it will be available to stream on Amazon Prime Video in select countries later this month.