With Thanksgiving days away here in the States, you can count on many families donning sweatpants. Most will be adopting the traditional holiday attire to stuff themselves with as much turkey, pie, cranberries, and all manner of carbs. Others will be using the day off to run a 5K (or greater distance) in the cold. I’m not going to lie: I reserve a large amount of disdain for the latter. But as this week’s film reminds us, it’s no bad thing to pursue your dreams. If your dream involves layering up with running gear and scarves just so you can feel sweaty, cold, and tired all at once, never let me stand in your way.
Brittany Runs a Marathon
After a stern word from her doctor, Brittany takes her new running goal to the extreme, from initially running a single block to the entirety of the New York City Marathon.
Brittany is a goofy extrovert who is always keen to make people laugh. Ready for a night out whenever her roomie asks her to tag along, Brittany never fails to take things just a bit too far, whether it’s drinking, hooking up with less than savory characters, or spending money she doesn’t have on others.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, this lifestyle has really taken a toll on Brittany’s health and self-esteem. When she goes in to the doctor’s hoping to score meds as a quick fix for her inability to focus, Brittany comes away with unwanted warnings about her health and some potential risks in the future.
After realizing how much money a gym membership costs, Brittany decides she will give running a go. She sets a goal weight for herself and decides she will soon be able to run a mile. These goals prove to be even more difficult than Brittany first realizes as she immediately retreats back to her apartment upon seeing her reflection rather than running her first block.
Encouragement comes in the surprising from of neighbor Catherine, who seems to be living in just one of several properties she owns, and is constantly running and engaging in other annoyingly healthy habits. Brittany is less than thrilled to be pitied by such a seemingly well-adjusted woman, though of course there’s a learning opportunity here. Catherine was once addicted to heroin, and the two bond(ish) over the times they’ve slept on dead rats. When Catherine invites Brittany to her running group, it provides the structure and support needed to meet her goals.
Through the group, Brittany meets potential new bestie Seth, who consistently makes the same face I do when I think about running. After completing a 5K, Brittany, Seth, and Catherine ambitiously begin training for the New York City Marathon. Fun fact: only a few runners who are serious marathoners are guaranteed a spot, with everyone else left to take their chances in a lottery or find support by raising money for a charity.
The marathon training is not for the faint of heart–and it’s going to cost serious money. Brittany finds a second job as a pet sitter to help cover costs of the marathon. Things get complicated when evening pet sitter, Jern, moves in to the gorgeous house. Worried the owners will cancel the contract altogether if they learn the truth, Brittany decides to keep quiet. Honestly, not the worst call ever; after a fight with toxic roomie Gretchen, Brittany moves into the house too.
Things seem to be coming together for Brittany. She even sets up a dating profile and bonds with Jern over their experiences as children from broken homes. On top of all of this, Catherine uses her influence to fund Brittany’s marathon run. And, oh, how quickly things unravel.
Feeling her new friends just pity her, Brittany rejects Catherine’s offer. She makes it clear to Jern that, though they are now hooking up, she would never date him. And a stress fracture makes her goal of running the marathon in a few weeks impossible–as well as reaching her goal weight, a number Brittany now obsesses over. When the house’s owners return, Brittany decides to return home to her sister and brother-in-law in Philadelphia. Though wallowing in a puddle of self-pity, Brittany decidedly still has bridges left to burn–and she does.
Will Brittany ever run the marathon as promised in the title of our film–and, more importantly, will she learn to be a person she can love and respect?
4/5 Pink Panther Heads
Strictly speaking, this film probably deserves a 3.5 rather than a 4–it’s not especially profound and is, in fact, predictable to a fault. However, I really appreciated the nuances here capturing Brittany’s internal life as well as her external struggles to pursue and complete a challenging goal. The film does well in avoiding the magical weight loss narrative in which our protagonist’s life is transformed into one of perfect bliss. Rather, it’s the act of following through on her goals and genuinely caring for herself and well-being that is of most concern. The weight loss itself is secondary, and Brittany must recognize this in order to accept and respect herself.
I also find a lot of truth in Jillian Bell’s performance; Brittany is a deeply flawed character who frequently makes the viewer (or at least this viewer) throw things at the screen. It’s heartbreaking but very familiar that she doesn’t recognize how a friend should act as she’s become so used to toxic patterns and people. She unfairly judges herself and others, dismissing other character’s dreams as stupid while at the same time pursuing a goal that is almost beyond human endurance.
I appreciate the commitment of this film to capturing the feelings of being a woman struggling to accept her body and self, especially when so much of the world around her seems to confirm her worst thoughts about herself.