Brittany Runs a Marathon, written and directed by Paul Downs Colaizzo, was a big hit at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, but is unfortunately too saccharine to have a lasting impact. Good intentions only go so far, and this movie suffers from an uneven and by-the-book script.
This film follows a young woman who, under the advice of her doctor and tired of having the world body-shame her, sets out to train for the New York City marathon. What results is a frustratingly straightforward and only mildly inspiring underdog story that takes quite a bit of time to get moving and is only mostly diverting once it does.
The only thing that this movie has to offer is a positive message about perseverance and how anything is possible if one is fully dedicated to achieving a goal. However, beneath the seemingly inspiring messaging is something more sinister. For a film trying to pass itself off as “body positive”, it is a bit suspect that the protagonist measures her success in the amount of weight she loses. The dialogue emphasizes that a marathon is not about winning, but about finishing… yet the filmmaking seems to show that it is really about conforming to the “normal” body image.
The main factor that will make or break this movie for most audiences is whether or not they appreciate Jillian Bell’s schtick. Even though she proved this year in Sword of Trust that she has legitimate chops, she goes back to playing her usual character in this, albeit with one or two additional emotional scenes. By now, her goofiness is starting to get old, and it does not lend anything to Brittany Runs a Marathon, making the character more annoying than she would otherwise be.
Over the course of the film, Brittany does become a more likable character, and as a result, the movie becomes more bearable. However, for those first thirty minutes, in which she is whiny and annoying (akin to most of Bell’s other characters), it is almost unbearable. The film can’t be faulted for being unrealistic — everyone knows someone like that — but do audiences really want to watch a movie about the most annoying person they know?
The humor of the film is also sadly unfunny. There is some legitimate wit to be found in the dialogue, but that is buried beneath all the layers of visual gags and jokes that just don’t land. Audiences are supposed to laugh at Brittany struggling to run? Even though the intention is (hopefully) to laugh with her, it more often than not feels like laughing at her instead.
It really is a shame that the movie isn’t stronger as a whole, because the supporting cast that was assembled for the film is quite talented. Lil Rel Howery, Micah Stock, and Michaela Watkins all give solid supporting performances, though none of them are given much with which they can work. Of the three, Stock’s performance is the most memorable and enjoyable to watch, but audiences will be left wanting to see more of Howery and Watkins.
The movie also has quite a bit of ambition on a technical level. The editing, particularly towards the end of the film, is energetic if a bit gimmicky, allowing the movie to move along despite pacing issues and a conventional plot. That said, the overly pop-filled soundtrack doesn’t help the film, as it makes the “motivational” nature of the movie feel even more forced. Granted, this does brighten up the film a bit, but the story is already sentimental enough that this is unnecessary.
The first thirty minutes of Brittany Runs a Marathon are unpleasant, and the following hour is watchable. Ultimately, although the effort and passion of all involved is obvious, and it will have its fair share of fans, this film leaves much to be desired and feels like a waste of potential.
Brittany Runs a Marathon is now playing in select theaters.