Updated: Jun 18, 2020
I had been looking forward to checking out Brittany Runs A Marathon after reading the many glowing reviews praising the subject matter and Jillian Bell’s performance. In the first half of the film, I laughed as Brittany navigated through her health journey and life as a young adult in NYC. I could relate to so much of her life from seemingly all her friends being either married or in a relationship meanwhile she’s very much single or pet sitting for a few extra dollars and finding out the owner lives in the New York City equivalent of a mansion. I felt my stomach turn as Brittany’s journey transitioned from her trying to improve her health to her descent into overexercising and obsessively weighing herself. Inevitably, this behavior catches up with Brittany and five weeks before the marathon, she develops a stress fracture prohibiting her from running for eight weeks.
During Brittany’s time in recovery, I was waiting for some kind of aha moment of clarity, some kind of resolution where Brittany realizes that this never should have been about her weight or physical appearance, but about her health. That the doctor who told her that she needed to lose 45 pounds in order to get healthy was a careless diagnosis. That her life and self-worth have become wrapped up in running and training. But the moment never really comes. At least, not in a satisfying way. Any true, honest exploration of exercise culture and weight stigmas in society is mostly left in subtext and Brittany’s behavior is tied to her just not being a very nice person. This was a disappointing turn for the film as every moment prior had felt like it was building up momentum to address and explore such topics and then never really does so in a meaningful way.
In the final minutes of the third act, Brittany finally gets a second chance to run the marathon, but as she inches ever closer to the finish line she is overcome by an abdominal cramp that leaves her on her knees. It seems that Brittany will once again not be able to make it to the finish line, but after encouragement from her friends on the sidelines, she decides to reject medical attention and persevere ahead. It’s meant to be a moment of triumph, but for me, it felt like a missed opportunity. I wanted Brittany to realize she doesn’t have anything to prove, that her worth and achievements aren’t defined by whether or not she finishes the marathon, that she doesn’t want to risk overexerting herself again. Ironically, her crossing the finish line is what felt anticlimactic for me. As someone who knows so many women, myself included, that have struggled with disordered eating, over-exercising, obsessively weighing ourselves, and just general body image issues brought upon by societal stigmas and biased medicine, I had been hoping and expecting to see a more nuanced and delicate exploration of the subject. Instead, I was left at the finishing line wanting so much more.