The “diet” industry is literally worth hundreds of billions of dollars. Fitness equipment, meal replacement shakes, gym memberships, protein powders, Spanx and now self-made Youtube health and fitness gurus pushing them all. It’s a gold mine of insecurities that businesses have been profiting from mining for centuries because few among us are perfectly happy with our bodies.
And yet, astoundingly, the film industry has rarely tapped into this universal plight. You can bet, though, that after Brittany Runs a Marathon hits the box office, there’ll be a string of film-makers kicking themselves for not getting in first.
When we meet our heroine Brittany (Jillian Bell), she is overweight and the poster girl for low self-esteem. She eats her feelings, pops pills, gets weeknight-wasted, gives strangers blow jobs in public toilets and surrounds herself with self-serving, so-called friends, who only reinforce her poor choices.
In an effort to procure prescription drugs for Tuesday night shenanigans, she pays her doctor (Patch Darragh) a visit. But obesity is the diagnosis that she gets slapped with. And instead of Adderall, he gives her a much-needed wake-up call and prescribes her exercise and a healthy diet.
Determined not to be another footnote in her family’s medical history, Brittany sets out, not to run a marathon, but simply to try and run one block. Her progress is no straight sprint to the finish line but rather a very realistic Cha-Cha of steps.
She is reluctantly helped along the way by Seth (Micah Stock), a fellow novice runner who has a point to prove to his son, and her neighbour Catherine (Michaela Watkins), an ostensibly cashed-up mum and artist harbouring some insecurities of her own.
If you’ve ever watched a Tony Robbins seminar, though, you know that excess weight is a symptom of unhappiness and not the root cause, so clearly, Brittany has quite the twisting course ahead of her.
For a few laps, it seemed like this might be a film without a romance but then quirky Jern (Utkarsh Ambudkar) joins the race, with a twinkle in his eye.
Brittany Runs a Marathon does a lot well and has a ton of fun doing it. The script is filled with jokes that begin in the opening minutes of the film and are proffered consistently throughout, but it also packs some powerful punches.
Bell, as Brittany, and Alice Lee, as (her shallow, Instagram-obsessed roommate) Gretchen, deliver some caustic remarks with such sting that it provoked audible gasps from the audience at the screening I attended.
Bell nails her performance as the leading lady and manages to be markedly flawed and at times awful, without ever completely losing her likability.
Utkarsh Ambudkar comes a close second with his portrayal of cartoon-loving, weed-smoking Jern whose hurt puppy dog face gets you right in the feels.
Brittany Runs a Marathon efficiently comments on weight loss, body-shaming, self-acceptance and the falsehood of the online versions we present of ourselves.
To its credit, the film doesn’t rely solely on montages to show Brittany’s weight loss. Instead, it sticks to presenting the reality that weight loss is a slow slog, that is not without its setbacks.
So too, it can become its own unhealthy scale-watching vortex of an obsession if you allow it to.
This is the first feature film from director Paul Downs Colaizzo. It’s witty, whip-smart, insightful and full of real characters you’ll care about.
If only all contributions to the “diet” industry could be this worthwhile.
SEE IT if…
You’d like to shed your muffin top
You wrote-off Jillian Bell after Rough Night
SKIP IT if…
You’re not ready to give up on Tuesday nights out yet
It gets 4 stars out of 5.
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