REVIEW: ‘Brittany Runs a Marathon’ (2019) Gets Tripped Up in Several Fat Girl Transformation Story Cliches

Rating: 2 out of 2.

“In trying to tread the line between being fat inspiration porn and an uplifting story about body positivity, director Paul Downs Colaizzo delivers a conventional makeover movie in his first feature film.”

Brittany Runs a Marathon tells the story of Brittany Forgler (Jillian Bell), a slightly overweight, predominantly directionless 28-year-old woman as she trains to run a marathon. The film opens with Brittany at the doctor’s office — a moment that fat people know all too well. Brittany goes to the doctor in search of Adderall, but what she gets prescribed instead is a weight loss plan to lose 50 pounds to cure her ‘unhealthy’ lifestyle. This visit acts as the catalyst for Brittany’s fitness journey. Brittany takes on running in an attempt to lose weight and quickly sets her sights on the New York City Marathon. She trades in pizza after nights of binge drinking for salads and a Sunday morning running club. 

Although the purpose of her visit is routed in a scheme for drugs, Brittany’s doctor’s visit reveals a real hazard of living in a fat body: legitimate health concerns are often ignored and weight loss is prescribed. Instead of working to complicate the way fatness is related to health and fitness, Brittany Runs a Marathon uses this doctor’s visit as the inciting incident in our protagonist’s fitness journey. In trying to tread the line between being fat inspiration porn and an uplifting story about body positivity, director Paul Downs Colaizzo delivers a conventional makeover movie in his first feature film. Losing weight is just as much of Brittany’s goal as running a marathon. Although the film comes to a hasty “it was never about the weight” type of conclusion, it spends the majority of its runtime obsessing over numbers. The concept of a woman training to run a marathon, and as a byproduct losing weight, is not inherently insidious. However, the film frames Brittany’s weight-loss as a celebration of her regaining control of her life. Here lies the issue with the film and with the body positivity movement the film is representative of. 

Brittany Runs a Marathon is a portrayal of the toxic facets of diet culture packaged and sold as a motivational, feel-good story. But feel-good for who? Brittany learns to find acceptance in herself but only at the expense of fat people. In a moment of drunken ignorance, Brittany lashes out at a happy plus-sized woman and her thin husband in a hard to watch scene that’s meant to serve Brittany’s personal growth. Brittany apologizes by sending flowers and a note that explains she was angry because she wants what this woman has (because being fat and content is something unimaginable). Brittany’s outburst prompts her brother-in-law (Lil Rel Howery) to sit her down to face her shortcomings. Brittany is forced to confront her self sabotaging and aloofness but never confronts her internalized fatphobia. The film ends and Brittany is still 40 pounds lighter. It would be easier to buy into the “every body is beautiful” narrative if the talk around this film was not heavily focused on Bell’s own weight loss

The crux of Brittany Runs a Marathon is in Bell’s performance as its titular character. Bell is funny and charming (when the narrative allows her to be) enough to elevate Brittany from being a boring stereotype. Ultimately though, the film fails its protagonist by not providing nearly enough depth necessary for an emotionally satisfying conclusion. Her relationships, especially with her family, are not thoroughly explored leaving the audience confused when Brittany takes her heel turn. The bright spots in the film are when Brittany celebrates small victories with her new running friends — a recently divorced woman fighting for custody of her kids and a dad trying to get in shape for his young son. Bell shines as Brittany stepping out of her comfort zone and learning to let people into her life for the first time in a while.

Brittany Runs a Marathon is honest about the experience of living as a woman with any kind of body. Its portrayal of being a fat girl and losing weight is authentic — it’s complicated and ugly. People treat you differently, they hold doors open for you, but rather than being a reflection of society’s fatphobia this is framed as Brittany’s success in the narrative. In Brittany Runs A Marathon, body positivity is the framework, but fat is never the end goal. Coming out in the same year as Shrill, a show that presents the authentic life of a plus-sized woman as universal, Brittany Runs a Marathon feels unnecessary and regressive. 

Brittany Runs a Marathon gets tripped up in several fat girl transformation story cliches. Colaizzo wanted to bring humanity to “the fat sidekick”, but this character is only allotted humanity when actively losing weight. Jillian Bell deserves a starring role that doesn’t feel the need to make her inspirational. There was an opportunity to tell an honest story about a woman dealing with her self-image and discovering her own strength through training for a marathon. However, Brittany Runs a Marathon is not self-aware enough to realize that Brittany was a runner as soon as she put her sneakers on. Brittany was always worthy of humanity, she did not need to lose weight to get it. 

Dir: Paul Downs Colaizzo

Prod: Tobey Maguire, Margot Hand, Matthew Plouffe

Cast: Jillian Bell, Michaela Watkins, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Micah Stock, Lil Rel Howery 

Available on: Amazon Prime