The best movie experiences are when experience exceeds expectation. This can make a highly-anticipated flick falter in comparison to an unexpected gem. Brittany Runs a Marathon benefits from a campaign that suggests a lighthearted romp but the actual experience is a lot richer and deeper than that. I was pleasantly surprised by the entire experience even if the spoiler in the title telegraphs the ending.
The setup is simple enough. Brittany (Jillian Bell) is a hapless New Yorker, the fat best friend that everyone likes to have around, provided she stays in the box they have her in. When she decides to jump down the rabbit hole of self-improvement, by yes, training for a marathon, she discovers that improving her body (and body image) is only one part of the process. She is befriended by two other runners, Catherine (the wonderful Michael Watkins), an intrusive neighbor channeling her divorce angst into running; and Seth (Micah Stock), a gay dad also working on self-improvement. Brittany’s training affects all aspects of her life and soon she’s at odds with her family and friends, even as she finds new romantic opportunities with Jern (Utkarsh Ambudkar), the man she’s cohabitating with in their rich employer’s house.
The story takes a few unexpected twists, and it’s not afraid of showing how Brittany’s body improvements don’t keep her from being an asshole, and how her insecurities don’t drop just because her pounds are. Writer-director Paul Downs Colaizzo (a playwright doing his first feature) balances the humor and pathos decently, and pulls out a really strong performance from Bell, who has built a career on being solid comic relief but has never had the chance to really own a character like this. It’s a fearless performance not only because of the body issues baked into the story, but also because it’s so rare that the hero of the story is given such despicable moments and Bell manages that deftly without alienating the audience.
As it moves to a climax that is both expected and well-earned, Brittany shows that even simple concepts can produce solid films.
My Grade – B+