As someone who is plus-sized in the way Brittany (Jillian Bell) is, I do appreciate a film like this coming along and contending with the inherent messiness of body positivity, particularly the idea of being happy with your image while also recognizing that losing weight is important for your longevity. Cognitively, there is a dissonance in recognizing that being plus-sized is beautiful while also being aware that, realistically, you have a better chance of living longer if your weight is proportional to your height. I feel like Brittany Runs a Marathon tries to contend with that dissonance in interesting ways, even if they’re not always successful. A scene late into the film, for instance, that sees Brittany cruelly fat-shame a married woman, even after all she’s learned and gone through, is somewhat crudely handled, despite the fact that it emblematizes some of Brittany’s lingering dissonance with the social acceptability of being overweight. One also gets the sense that the scene is necessitated by the fact that, yes, Brittany does actually lose weight by the film’s end, achieves her goal of running the New York Marathon, and continues exercising after the fact. Because Brittany does not remain overweight, Colaizzo has to somehow keep a body-positive message regardless, and so this fat-shaming incident is included as a way to compensate.
This kind of juggling also points to the fact that the film itself is rather overstuffed narratively, trying to cover so many bases to keep its premise watchable that it doesn’t always stay consistent. For example, this being a comedy, Colaizzo gives his protagonist a love interest midway through. While charming in the moment, though, the subplot also veers the film too far from its aims—perhaps even turning it into a more conventional affair than it ought to be. Instead, I would have liked even more time with Catherine (Michaela Watkins) and Seth (Micah Stock), both of whom are on the cusp of being well-realized characters, but who could have also benefited from a few more scenes, as well. Watkins is particularly wonderful here, believably grounded while also barely concealing her own struggles. Her scenes with Bell are truly some of the film’s high points.
There’s still enough here to like: Bell’s mordant brand of humour fits her character (even if some of the jokes don’t land); it’s amicably constructed; and the payoff of seeing Brittany complete her marathon after all her commitment is more than fulfilling. If it had dug into its themes more and sought a finer balance between serving the story and serving those themes, this would’ve worked better for me. But then again, this is very tricky subject matter to begin with, and so I can’t help but applaud Colaizzo’s efforts in tackling them.