Brittany Runs a Marathon

 

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A real-life friend inspires a movie as an American playwright takes to the cinema.

 
Brittany Runs a Marathon  

Jillian Bell

 

Like its cast, the man behind Brittany Runs a Marathon, Paul Downs Colaizzo, is much better known in America than he is here. Already established as an out-gay playwright, he has now turned to cinema first by writing the screenplay for this film and then by persuading the producers that he was the right man to direct it. If his inexperience sometimes shows through, he certainly knows his characters and fully understands the balance that he is seeking between comedy and a heart-warming story designed to wring tears as it reaches its feel-good conclusion.

 

The lack of big names may make it more difficult to sell the film here since its appeal is very much that of a New York City tale. Brittany, played by Jillian Bell, is a 28-year-old singleton whose prospects seem dim since she recognises that she has become overweight, but she resolves to train for a year to take part in the city’s annual marathon: more than a way to lose weight, she sees this as a chance to make her life afresh. The fact that there is a real Brittany who did just that and was a friend of Colaizzo’s explains both his choice of subject and his innate sympathy for reversing the formula so that this time the fat girl in a comedy is not the heroine’s side-kick but the actual heroine of the piece.

 

If this situation provides the basic plot of the film, it is elaborated through the other characters in the story who sometimes develop in ways we do not anticipate but who illustrate the diversity that is part of life in New York. Thus we have (a) Brittany’s room-mate, a Korean-American named Gretchen (Alice Lee), (b) her gay running partner Seth (Micah Stock) who is raising a family with his husband, (c) a neighbour (Michaela Watkins) whose impending divorce involves her in custody issues, (d) her wise brother-in-law, Demetrius (Lil Rel Howery) who happens to be black and, by no means least, (e) a potential lover for Brittany in the person of Jern (Utkarsh Ambudkar) who is of Asian descent.

 

The casting throughout is exemplary but, if a slight suggestion of underlying sadness is already present from the start, the film moves increasingly towards drama. This happens without the individuality of the characterisations leading to a deeper sense of contemporary reality as happened in the recent British release Animals. Instead, the increasing emphasis on the dramatic leads us to a heavy-handed homily from Demetrius putting Brittany on the right path and a concluding sequence, Brittany’s attempt to finish the marathon, which is thoroughly milked to work on the audience’s emotions. Greatly aided by the players, there is plenty that pleases, but I found the film too set up in its last quarter to enjoy it as much as I had hoped to do. However, lovers of feel-good cinema are, by and large, only too ready to have their emotions manipulated so, if Brittany Runs a Marathon can find audiences here, most of them may well not share my reservations.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Jillian Bell, Michaela Watkins, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Lil Rel Howery, Micah Stock, Alice Lee, Jennifer Dundas, Patch Darragh.

 

Dir Paul Downs Colaizzo, Pro Matthew Plouffe, Tobey Maguire and Margot Hand, Screenplay Paul Downs Colaizzo, Ph Seamus Tierney, Pro Des Erin Magill, Ed Casey Brooks, Music Duncan Thum, Costumes Stacey Berman.

 

Amazon Studios/Material Pictures/Picture Films-Republic Film Distribution.
104 mins. USA/Canada. 2019. Rel: 1 November 2019. Cert. 15.