Once in awhile, movies surprise you by being something different — or something more — from what you expect. For all of its title's obviousness, "Brittany Runs a Marathon" is one of this movies. Following is the review that I wrote for Spokane Public Radio:
You’re probably familiar with the following movie formula: Troubled character indulges in self-hating behavior, hits a low point, decides to change, gets help, stumbles here and there, but finally makes a determined march toward a new and better life. And, yes, love plays a part in the process.
That’s pretty much what you would expect from a movie bearing the title “Brittany Runs a Marathon.” And, ultimately, it is what you do get.
But the film, written and directed by first-time feature filmmaker Paul Downs Colaizzo – and inspired by the real-life experience of Colaizzo’s roommate Brittany O’Neill – is far more complicated than any simple formulaic manipulation. And the actress whom Colaizzo hired, Jillian Bell, gives a performance that is at times comedic, at times touching and at all times authentic.
When we first meet her, Brittany is a 28-year-old mess. Waking up in the early afternoon, she is perennially late for work – at least partly due to the fact that, the movie makes clear, she isn’t the kind of woman that anyone would hold a subway door for. Sure, she’s funny – something that comes naturally to Bell – but a lot of her humor is self-deprecating and is clearly a self-protective mask.
The other reason for her lateness is her habit of clubbing with her “influencer” roommate and other hangers-on, playing the clown and settling for the occasional sexual encounter instead of pursuing anything resembling a stable relationship.
Then while attempting to score some Adderall from a doctor, Adderall being a stimulant that can produce euphoric effects, Brittany is given some bad news: Her health, no surprise, is horrible for someone in her 20s. So slowly, and reluctantly, she gives running a try. First a single block, then a few more and, over time, she’s even entering 5K races.
And she even makes friends, including with the woman who lives above her who seems to have everything Brittany does not – from a lithe figure to a healthy bank account.
But here’s where Colaizzo’s film differs from the standard template: Brittany’s evolution never comes easy. And even as she does progress physically, she resists touching those raw, naked emotions that haunt her. And in doing so, Brittany pushes everyone away – especially the ones who want to help support her the most.
Colaizzo clearly produced his film on a small budget, and most of his cast is little known or at least underused in feature-film work – from Michaela Watkins, who starred with Bell in “Sword of Trust,” to Utkarsh Ambudkar, a comedic actor who provides a unique touch to the typical movie love interest.
Colaizzo benefits from his New York City setting, from shooting scenes that include the actual New York City Marathon, but particularly from casting Bell, who lost 40 pounds for the film – 29 before shooting started and 11 more during the actual production.
Most of all, the true value of “Brittany Runs a Marathon” is the trip that Bell’s character makes – a trip that emphasizes how the way one looks is not as important in achieving happiness as is the way one feels.