Friday, August 30, 2019

'Brittany Runs A Marathon' Is Healthy Junk Food

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step...And a Burger Shack shake

As someone who has gained, lost, and gained weight her entire life, I can safely say, losing weight is not a ticket to happiness. And for the most part, the comedy Brittany Runs a Marathon knows this, too. Still, it's a tricky thing these days to base a comedy around a woman's weight loss goals, and I'll admit when I first heard about the film, my knee-jerk reaction was, "haven't we grown past this?"

But then I reminded myself I gleefully consume shows like The Biggest Loser and Fit to Fat to Fit like the televised junk food they are (and yes, hate myself for that consumption, just like I would after eating a pint of ice cream), so who am I kidding? I'm here for it.

Comedian and actress Jillian Bell, who has been relegated to sidekick and comic relief roles in the past takes on the lead role of Brittany with aplomb. Brittany is in a rut. At one point, she was aiming for a career in advertising--specifically, jingle writing--but is now barely getting by with her job at a small theater company. She's also outwardly hilarious, always the first to make a joke at her own expense; the funny, fat sidekick to her more conventionally beautiful girlfriends; the low-esteem girl who gets far more requests for blow-jobs than she does for her phone number.

Her life is a loop of clubbing, drinking, drugging, hangovers, and people who won't hold that subway door for her rushing-and-late-to-work ass. What she needs, obviously, is Adderall. Unable to convince her doctor it's because she "has a hard time focusing," he chooses to focus on her actual health, letting her know her BMI is too high ("I feel like you're totally missing the point of those Dove ads"), her blood pressure is elevated, and she's at risk for fatty liver disease ("Oh, even my liver is fat!"). He tells her to lose 45 to 55 pounds, or as she puts it, "the weight of a Siberian husky. You want me to pull a medium-sized working dog off of my body."

She ultimately recognizes this is the kick in the ass her life needs, and after a thwarted attempt to join a gym with rates that start at over $100 a month, she decides to try running, since that's, you know, free.

The early running scenes are both funny and painful. Funny because Bell sells the agony (at one point she's running so slow she's convinced she's going backwards) and painful because of the fat prosthetic she's forced to wear.

Because the filming schedule was only a month long, they weren't able to incorporate the weight loss Bell went through in preparation for the role into the actual film. By the time they started shooting, Bell was down 30 pounds, so they had to illustrate her "before" state with padding and a fake double chin that's distracting in its overly-freckled make-up job and the stiffness it adds to Bells movements. It also adds a weird dynamic to watching the movie: you hope she loses weight, and fast, so you don't have to look at that creepy chin anymore.

As Brittany moves through her running journey, she makes new friends, including Catherine (Michaela Watkins), a rich neighbor she had previously despised, and Seth (Michah Stock), a gay father who is trying to get into shape so he can stop running out of breath when he's playing with his son. Together they decide to tackle the New York City Marathon, a year long training goal. She also takes on a house/dog sitting job, where she meets Jern (Utkarsh Ambudkar), the "night shift" dog watcher who has decided to just squat at the house full time. She hates him immediately, so you know what that means.

There's a tightrope to be walked with these kinds of stories, and Brittany Runs sometimes slips. We are given constant updates on how much weight she's lost, and we are consistently shown the changes in her physical appearance as he admires herself in the mirror. But not as much attention is given to the state of those medical issues that drove her to make changes in the first place.

On the other hand, the film also recognizes that an obsession with that number on the scale never, never, leads to anything good, and can actually be dangerous, and that physical changes mean nothing if you don't address your mental and emotional issues at the same time. This is illustrated most painfully in a scene where Brittany projects all her built up insecurities onto an overweight woman she meets at a family party and treats horribly. Because while there may be some debate about whether skinny is a worthy goal, skinny bitch never should be. I may have some issues with the central premise of Brittany Runs a Marathon, but its heart, humor, and central performance from Jillian Bell turn it into something I didn't feel guilty about consuming.

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