Taking a leaf out of Netflix’s uber successful book, Amazon Studios have been producing their own film content over the last few years, with some leaving the streaming platform entirely and landing big screen releases. Their latest attempt at cinematic victory is Paul Downs Colaizzo‘s Brittany Runs a Marathon, inspired by a true story.
Brittany (Jillian Bell) is in her late 20s, living in a grubby New York City apartment with best friend Gretchen (Alice Lee), scraping by in all aspects. While Gretchen lives the high life through her Instagram story, Brittany spends her days eating, watching TV and resenting their perfectly put-together neighbour, Catherine (Michaela Watkins).
After reporting to her doctor’s office to try to score an Adderall prescription, Brittany is advised to lose a little weight – 55 pounds to be exact. Horrified, she leaves, only to return home to see Catherine taking up a run from their building. While never admitting to it, she’s inspired, and so laces up her trainers and starts with one lap around the block. So far, so good.
As Brittany ups the ante, taking part in local 5k races, she becomes friends with fellow newbie Seth (Micah Stock), and former nemesis Catherine. Together, the three become each others’ cheerleaders, each battling their own demons and using running as a way to escape. And Brittany’s set them a challenge – running the New York City marathon. But as she becomes distracted by ‘work colleague’ Jern (Utkarsh Ambudkar), and then suffers an injury weeks before the race, will she make it across the finishing line?
From the outset, Brittany Runs a Marathon reminds me of a mix of HBO’s hit television series Girls and 2018’s meh-fest I Feel Pretty, starring Amy Schumer. At first, it feels like Brittany isn’t likeable, similar to Lena Dunham‘s Hannah (I can already hear the comments of ‘she’s just another self-obsessed millennial’). She’s lazy and uninspiring, leaving us with little room for any sympathy. But as we see her trying and striving to make a difference for herself, we warm to her; everybody loves a trier. We’re proud of her as she weighs herself, watching the pounds drop off, as she tackles further distances, as she turns down a messy, drug-fuelled night out with Gretchen for rest and recuperation instead. We’re proud of her for making positive changes, not for anyone else but herself.
And with that warmth comes a recognition of Bell’s talent. Having started improv classes at the tender age of 8, Bell knows when to land a quip, and Brittany Runs a Marathon is full of them. At times it’s laugh-out-loud funny, thanks to Downs Colaizzo’s whip-smart script and incredible cast, a mix of stand-up comedians and Saturday Night Live alumni. The chemistry between the characters is believable and we get to know and like everyone involved, including Brittany’s love interest/man-child Ambudkar.
Where I Feel Pretty and Brittany Runs a Marathon differ is in the character’s motivations. Schumer’s Renee is desperate for acceptance, not just from herself but from the people around her. In contrast, Bell takes up running for herself – she doesn’t look to anyone else for ratification, and continues to challenge herself for herself. I Feel Pretty‘s finale sees Renee wander into the sunset with her new boyfriend, content because he loves her ‘just the way she is’ – she’s reliant on his approval and acceptance. While Brittany finishes her story with a new love by her side, she continues to run, continues to self-improve for nobody but her. Now that’s the kind of self-esteem we need to teach the kids!
Despite losing the audience a little during the climax with an odd overuse of on-screen computer graphics, and a saccharine-sweet ending, this is a powerful, genuinely funny directorial debut from Downs Colaizzo. If this doesn’t make you want to lace on your trainers and hit the pavement, I don’t know what will.