December 12, 2019

Brittany Runs A Marathon (movie review)

I recently watched an Amazon Original movie, Brittany Runs A Marathon, and the whole time I was watching, I kept thinking, "I should have been taking notes so that I can write about this on my blog!" because it was SO relatable. And motivating. And sad. And inspiring. And funny.

As a forewarning, there will be SPOILERS in this post--however, this movie isn't exactly suspenseful or anything (the title says it all) so even if you know the plot from start to finish, it's still worth watching. But if you don't want to know anything about it, then definitely skip this post. (Or watch the movie and then come read it)

I ended up rewatching the movie so that I could take notes to write a blog post (and I took an embarrassing amount of notes--nine pages scribbled in a notebook!).

The overall theme of this movie is humor (it's definitely funny), but I found so many parts of it very sad as well. I'll get into that more later.

The main character is Brittany, a 29-year old single woman from Philadelphia who is now living a carefree lifestyle in NYC. She lives in an apartment with a roommate/best friend, Gretchen.

When Brittany was a child, her parents got divorced and her mom left. Her dad became very depressed, and Brittany used humor to cheer him up. He eventually became ill and died, so Brittany's sister (can't remember her name) and brother-in-law, Demetrius, took her in. Demetrius was a father-figure to her and the two became very close.

Brittany is obese at 5'6" and 197 pounds, but I love that the producer didn't show her as the stereotypical obese person on TV--i.e. making her skin look bad, wearing frumpy clothes, sad all the time, no friends, etc. She's actually gorgeous; she does her hair and make-up, and she's outgoing, funny, and you basically want to be best friends with her. I do, anyway.

You can tell immediately that she is very insecure, however, and she uses humor to cover her insecurity. Later in the film, she'll drunkenly say, "People love fat people when they're being funny." That is clear during the movie. Something she does frequently when you can tell she feels uncomfortable is speak in a British accent. It's obvious that she is using it to make light of her insecurity and try to cover it by being funny.

Basic Plot in a Nutshell:

Brittany learns from her doctor that she is obese and has high blood pressure. He suggests making some lifestyle changes (diet and exercise). She cannot afford to join a gym, so she decides to start running. She heads out with the intention of running one block, and she does--although it was very difficult for her.

She continues to run, and Catherine, her neighbor (a runner that Brittany makes fun of, calling her "Moneybags Martha" behind her back, and who is usually heading out for a run in the early morning when Brittany is coming home from a night of drinking at a club) invites her to join a run group. Brittany attends and meets Seth, a gay man maybe a little older than Brittany's age, who is married and has a son. Brittany and Seth become close friends, and ultimately, Catherine joins them, making a trio.

As they run together, Brittany suggests that they run the NYC marathon. After some convincing, the threesome trains together. Brittany, meanwhile, is making healthier choices (no more drinking or going out late on the weekends and eating somewhat healthier) and she is losing weight. The more she loses, the more focused and determined she becomes.

As the title states, Brittany does run a marathon--but there are several bumps along the way.

Here is the trailer for film:

The Super Detailed Version (and my thoughts):

Now, for the long, very detailed version (with spoilers, FYI) and my thoughts on the movie:

First, I have to say that the writer/director of this movie did an AMAZING job writing this as if he was truly inside the head of a fat/formerly-fat girl's head--I cannot believe how well he captured the thoughts and insecurities of us fat girls (I mean no disrespect by using the phrase "fat girls"--Brittany and others refer to "fat girls" in the movie, and it's a strong theme, so I'm going to use those words as well. As a fat girl/former fat girl myself, I have never had a problem with those words when used in this sort of context.

There is a scene at the beginning of the movie where Brittany is drinking at a club and talking to a guy. He asks her if she wants to go into the bathroom with him; she smiles and says, "You ARE pretty cute," and you can tell she thinks that he's into her as well. Then he picks up some napkins from the table and tells her that she can put her knees on them (clearly for kneeling down in the bathroom to perform oral sex).

His presumption was so degrading. She liked having a guy's attention, but then felt that slap in the face of humiliation. Sort of like him saying, "Hey, this chick will take what she can get and she's lucky I want anything to do with her."

The next day, she goes to the local gym and learns that it's $129+ per month. She retorts, "You do know people can go outside... and just, like, do things...outside...?" Since money is tight for her, and she is "up to her tits in debt", she skips the gym and decides to run on her own.

As a true newbie to exercising, she dresses in a lace bra, sweatpants, hoodie, and Converse Chucks for her first run, not knowing anything about running clothes or shoes. I liked this detail--I was clueless how to dress when I first started running!

She stares at the door to go outside for a moment, willing herself to open it and go. As she steps outside, she catches her distorted reflection on the side of a hot dog cart, and after staring for a minute, she goes back inside her apartment and cries, skipping the run.

"Moneybags Martha", who is actually named Catherine, hears her crying from her apartment next door and goes to check on her. Brittany is bitter with Catherine because Catherine seems to have the perfect life--money, fitness, health, family.

Brittany tells her as she sobs, "I'm broke. I'm fat. I applied to rescue a dog from a kill shelter, and they told me that I couldn't give the dog the kind of future it deserved. A KILL shelter!" (I thought this was so sad and hilarious.)

Catherine shares with Brittany that she used to be a heroin addict. She in the middle of a messy divorce and and her husband has custody of her kids. She started running a lot after quitting the drugs, and the running turned into her therapy.

The next day, Brittany tries the run again, telling herself she's going to go just one block. And she starts running. I found this part funny, because as she runs that one block, looking like a fish out of water, the end of the block is visible--then the film editing makes the end stretch out farther and farther away (to Brittany, it looks infinitely long).

Afterward, Catherine bumps into her on the stairs to the apartment and invites her to a running group. Brittany rudely scoffs at the idea, but ends up going. When she arrives, Catherine is telling the group that they are going to run two miles at a 9:00/mile pace. As soon as everyone starts running, Brittany falls behind and is running solo.

I have to say, if I went to a running group for the first time and that's what they expected (9:00/mile?!), I'd turn around and go right home. That's asking a lot! I love that Brittany stayed and did what she could.

Eventually, a man comes up behind her, huffing and puffing like she is, and she learns that he is new to running, too. His name is Seth, and he wants to run a 5K to impress his (toddler) son. To which Brittany replies, "Why would you do that to yourself? You're not going to win." This made me laugh and wonder if non-runners think that all runners enter races to try to win them!

He and Brittany become fast friends and begin running together regularly. Seth invites Catherine to join them, and Brittany eventually starts to warm up to Catherine.

(I will stop here for a second to say that before I lost the weight, I used to think that thin, pretty women were automatically happy... what could they be unhappy about when they looked like that? Over the past 10 years, I've learned that all women have insecurities, and like Catherine, maybe they weren't always living a healthy lifestyle. Everybody has a story, and losing the weight made me stop assuming things about people that I didn't know.)

Brittany asked her roommate/best friend, Gretchen, if she wanted to go for a run with her sometime. Gretchen replies, "If I do too much cardio, I get too skinny too quickly, remember?" (At which point, every fat girl watching the movie wants to strangle her.)

Gretchen is NOT a nice girl. She's super pretty, but very insecure about herself and cares way too much about what other people think of her. She posts about her "perfect life" to Instagram and obsesses over how many "likes" she gets. Each time Brittany says something positive about herself, Gretchen gives her a backhanded compliment.

When Brittany mentions Seth to Gretchen, Gretchen asks, "Is he like a serious runner, or is he like you?" An either/or question.

Gretchen is forever mentioning in a passive way that Brittany is not a "real" runner and she's just going through a phase. Nevertheless, she agreed to go to see Brittany at the finish line of her first 5K.

Brittany runs with Seth during the 5K, and at one point, they are running super slowly uphill. Brittany tells him that they're running backwards, hahaha. I have felt that way so many times!

No surprise, Gretchen isn't there at the finish line. Seth's husband and son are there, and the other runners all have people waiting for them. Seth asks Brittany where Gretchen is, that he "wanted to meet her best friend". Brittany makes an excuse for Gretchen, but you can tell she's hurt.

Later, Gretchen told her, "I wanted to go to your thing, but Ace of Base was doing this show thing and it didn't start until 2:00 am", so she was too tired to wake up early and go to the finish line. Brittany is disappointed, of course, and is starting to get fed up with Gretchen's selfishness.

Brittany checks out her race photos online, and they look like nearly all of my race photos--horribly unflattering. Race photos are almost never flattering! It's funny watch her look through them, because I'm sure any runner can relate to seeing unflattering race photos online.

Gretchen's comments about Brittany not being a real runner really start to get to Brittany. She suggests to Seth and Catherine that the three of them run the NYC marathon together. Catherine loves the idea, but it takes some convincing to get Seth to agree. Catherine explains that there is a lottery to get a spot in the race, and if they don't get a spot, then they'll need to raise money and run for a charity in order to do it.

Brittany gets a new job as a pet sitter for long term periods, and she discovers that the apartment for her first sitting job is a multi-million dollar apartment. The couple who lives there is away for months, and she is to stay there during the day to take care of the dog and plants. There is another sitter that goes for a night shift.

When the night shift sitter arrives, she learns his name is Jern and that he actually moved into the apartment (which isn't allowed by the agency). She is annoyed by him--he's a slob, leaving trash all over the house and not taking care of things.

One evening, Gretchen tells Brittany that she broke up with her boyfriend and she wants to go out drinking; Brittany uncomfortably declines. Gretchen suggests ice cream instead, and again, Brittany tells her that she would rather not. Brittany gently says that weeknight drinking is hard on her because she has to run the next day. Gretchen dramatically replies, "Now you're calling me an alcoholic?!"and calls Brittany's friends losers. She closes the bathroom door in Brittany's face.

Having a newfound confidence, and not willing to take Gretchen's insults anymore, Brittany opens the door and stands up to her. She says that Gretchen's whole life is about being insecure and humble bragging on Instagram.

She tells Gretchen, "I'm starting to feel good about myself. And every time that happens, you have to tear me down. I'm not going to be your fat sidekick anymore."

And then Gretchen--Brittany's "best friend"--drops this bomb: "Don't throw away your fat clothes. I've seen girls like you do this before. It doesn't even matter if you keep the weight off. You'll always be a fat girl. It's just who you are."

I wanted to strangle Gretchen at that moment. I had to deal with comments like this several times while losing the weight. On the positive side, it didn't hurt my feelings--it just made me angry. And that worked to my advantage! Those words were like adding fuel to the fire in my determination to get to my goal weight.

On the other hand, it's kind of true. I've lost the weight. I've kept most of it off. But I am still a fat girl inside. I'm not saying that's a bad thing, and I think those of you in the same situation will understand what I mean when I write that. I have more confidence now, but I am still extremely insecure about my looks, my weight, and what other people think about my body. I always think about my weight and no matter how hard I try NOT to, it's there inside of me. I can't unhear the comments that people used to make to me or how people used to treat me.

After her fight with Gretchen, Brittany ends up moving into the apartment where she is dog-sitting, so she spends quite a bit of time with Jern when she isn't running or with Seth and Catherine. She's feeling much more confident and is approaching her goal weight.

I learned that Jillian Bell, the actress who played Brittany, had lost 29 pounds before filming and another 11 pounds during filming. The entire filming process only took 29 days!

Because of the short amount of time, and Jillian Bell's weight loss prior to filming, they needed to use prosthetics to make her look heavier at the beginning of the film. The prosthetics were subtle, though. I love that this isn't a fairy tale-like story where the producer has her wear a huge fat suit and then strip it off and get stick-thin for the ending. In my opinion, the weight loss looks very realistic.

Jern helps Brittany set up a dating profile, and she has a date that goes really well. She has dinner at the guy's apartment, and afterward, they sit on his couch and kiss. Almost immediately, Brittany kneels on the floor (presumably to perform oral sex) and he stops her right away, seemingly a little taken aback.

He suggests going to the bedroom. Then it's Brittany that seems unsure and confused, and it's clear that she's been used by men several times--men that don't care about her or her feelings and just want a quick blow job. She's not sure how to deal with someone who actually seems to like her.

In the bedroom, they kiss again. Whenever Brittany is uncomfortably insecure, she speaks with a British accent to be funny. She made a joke in the bedroom, and her date told her, "No more of this British stuff. You don't need to be guarded with me."

She immediately makes up an excuse about it being late and that she has to leave. You can tell that she just isn't sure how to act around a guy who seems to genuinely like her. He saw through her insecurity and called her out on it.

Later that night, she has a conversation with Jern about what it's like to be a "fat girl". "The saddest part about being a girl who is not a size 0 is sometimes guys talk to you like you're one of the boys. You're 'privileged' enough to get to hear the uncensored thoughts that they would never tell a woman." (She's referring to guys looking through Instagram and saying things like women are slutty, ugly, fat, etc.)

Again, I can relate to this. I've always been friends with boys (even now, most of my friends are male) and treated like one of the guys. Thankfully, my friends are now more mature than what she described, but when I was much younger, I definitely heard boys talk about women like that.

Brittany has grown to really like Jern, and he has never even mentioned her weight. It seems to be a non-issue to him. When she was talking about it, he even said that different people like different things (subtly implying that "fat girls" are liked, too).

She eventually realizes she likes him and wants to seduce him, and despite the hints she gives him, he's a bit clueless. But eventually, he realizes what she's doing and they end up in bed together. I thought this scene was very powerful. Rather than being the girl who would drop to her knees because a cute boy asks her to, she was very confident and took control. They had sex, which wasn't degrading or humiliating to her at all, and afterward, she started crying as she laid on the bed next to him. He was worried he did something wrong, but she just says, "I enjoyed that very much."

You could tell that it was the first time she'd had sex and felt special--Jern liked and respected her, treated her with care, and gave her confidence. She could be herself and feel secure around him.

At just five pounds from her goal weight, she is excited about making a whole new Brittany. She keeps visualizing herself running the marathon, with people cheering all around her. She bumps into Gretchen on the subway as she's going to her first half-marathon, and Gretchen clearly misses her friendship. But Brittany just tells her that she's going to her race, with "serious runners headed to the half-marathon. Very real, very serious runners."

Later, Brittany gets a call from Seth, who tells her that he made it into the NYC marathon. Brittany checks her email and discovers that she did not get a spot. So, she has to earn money for a charity in order to run. Seth tells her that they will figure it out, and she says, "Why would you want to help me?" Seth replies, "Because I'm your friend, Brittany."

This reaction is SO familiar to me. I have always been so skeptical of anyone who wants to do something nice for me or who wants to be my friend. I feel like I'm missing something--why would anyone want to be friends with me? It's the insecurity of the "fat girl" inside of me. It's hard to believe that someone would actually enjoy being around me and it's such a difficult mindset to get over.

My friend told me one time that it's kind of a selfish mindset--when I think that way, it's all about me. That was helpful to hear her thoughts, because it made sense to me. I still struggle with it, but I try to be more trustful.

This mindset of hers was reinforced later that day, when she attended Catherine's housewarming party. Catherine and Seth generously presented her a check to cover her charity fundraising so that she'd be able to get a spot in the marathon. She asks why, and Seth says, "You really inspired us, Brit."

She again feels like she's not worthy. She declines the money and rudely leaves the party, saying that she doesn't want their pity or help.

Feeling down, she gets on the scale one morning to see she's gained a couple of pounds and she panics.

(This is super common during initial weight loss--every single gain feels like it's the start of gaining back every last pound. It's so frustrating while trying to make sense that it's normal for weight to fluctuate. I think most people who have lost a significant amount of weight go through this at some point--seeing a gain and then feeling panicked and trying to overcompensate. It's hard to find a balance.)

She restricts her eating a little more, runs more, and feels desperate to get back to that warm, happy place where the scale is always moving down and you're constantly seeing progress.

She overdoes it with the running and ends up with an injury--a stress fracture that will take weeks to heal. The doctor tells her she cannot run at all while it's healing. I know exactly how frustrating this is, because I went through it as well. When I was told I needed to rest my fibular stress fracture in 2015, I resisted it so much.

I spent months resting for a week or two, then running again and it would come right back. I was so worried about losing my fitness and gaining back all the weight. It took about nine months, but I finally decided to listen to the doctor and take a full six weeks off. And lo and behold, it healed just perfectly. Still, runners hate injuries because of not being able to run and possibly losing the fitness that we worked so hard to gain.

I was not surprised, then, when it causes Brittany to completely derail from her transformation. One line that I found to be the most relatable line in the movie was when she comes home from the doctor and as she's thinking about how her transformation is "over", she tells Jern, "It was really nice to be a woman for once. People held doors for me."

This struck me hard. Before losing the weight, I NEVER felt like a girl. I wasn't one of the girls who is self-confident and wears cute clothes and does her hair and make-up. I wished I was one of those girls! But I just didn't feel worthy. I hate this expression, but I felt like trying to be pretty was "like polishing a turd". In my eyes, at that time, my weight = ugly = unfeminine = why bother trying to look nice? I felt invisible most of the time.

When I lost quite a bit of weight and I started wearing nicer clothes and putting care into my appearance, things changed so much. I felt like I fit in more with my pretty girlfriends, and I got attention from men. People held the door for me. Strangers started making small talk with me. I felt visible and feminine for the first time in my life. I loved feeling that way.

While I'm nowhere near my heaviest weight now, I struggle with feeling pretty again after gaining some weight back. I take less care with my appearance. I'm hard on myself. I wish that wasn't the case, but even after all this time since losing the weight, I never really found the self-esteem that wasn't dependent on my weight. It's sad! But real. So hearing her state that "it was nice to be a woman for once" was very powerful for me.

Moving on... she feels completely defeated because of her injury and moves home to Philadelphia. She doesn't take calls from Seth or Catherine and spends most of the time feeling sorry for herself. On the day of the NYC marathon, she sees photos on Instagram of Seth and Catherine with their finisher's medals, and you can see that she's feeling sad about missing it, even though they tried to get in touch with her to let her know they still care.

She gets very drunk on Demetrius's birthday when there are guests at his party, and she says some very cringe-worthy things to an overweight woman who arrives with a thin boyfriend. Brittany points out that they are an odd couple because she's overweight and he's thin. The interaction is very rude, but it shows that while Brittany may have lost the weight, she is still just as insecure as she was before. She doesn't understand how someone could be happy while being overweight.

Weight loss does not equal happiness and confidence. It's a hard lesson to learn when you're losing weight and hoping that things magically change when you get to your goal weight. I was just as insecure when I was down to a size 2 as I was at a size 24. I think that is the hardest part about weight maintenance--figuring out how to change on the inside (for the better) as well as the outside.

After her stress fracture is healed, and her pity party gets old, she moves back to NYC and decides that she wants to try to run the marathon the following year. She finds a good job and works on getting her mess of a life back together.

The movie skips ahead to one year later, and Brittany heads to the starting line of the marathon. As the title says, Brittany does, in fact, run the marathon. It's not a perfect race, and she struggles a lot when she hits the wall, but she gets through it (I'll leave those details out of the spoilers).

As the credits play, there are photos of the "real" Brittany, who the film was inspired by. The writer/director of the film, Paul Downs-Colaizzo, wrote this script based on his friend and roommate, Brittany O'Neill. The real-life Brittany had decided to change her life and become a runner; Paul was inspired by her changes and decided to write a film script (very loosely) based on her lifestyle transformation.

My overall opinion of the film is that I absolutely loved it. I loved that it wasn't the cliché Cinderella story of "fat girl gets skinny and runs a crazy fast marathon and her life is perfect after that".

I thought that the weight loss was realistic--and technically it was, because Jillian Bell lost 40 pounds for the role. I liked that she didn't get overly thin--she looked healthy and "normal".

My favorite takeaway from the film was just how realistically it portrays "fat girl" thoughts. For women who spend the first 25-30 or so years of life overweight, a lot of the negative thoughts and experiences were very accurate (in my opinion, of course).

The only part I found to be somewhat unrealistic was that this seemed to be her first attempt at weight loss/exercise for health, and she nailed it on the first try. I attempted weight loss a trillion times in my life before I finally did it; and I attempted exercise programs almost as many times.

Maybe some people get it right on the first try, but I think they are in the minority. However, that would be hard to show in a movie.

Other than that, though, I felt like this movie was very relatable, hilarious, sad, inspiring, and thoughtful.

If you've seen it, I'd love to know your thoughts on it! Feel free to share in a comment.


  1. Hi, I saw the movie in the theater a while back (it only played here one day!) and loved it. My only disappointment was I felt the ending was rushed a little and glossed over the training leading up to and during the marathon when she ended up running it the following year. I would have liked to see more of her comeback from the stress fracture and her final weeks of training, running the marathon, etc. Overall though, I agree with everything you said about the fat girl/former fat girl mentality, etc. having lost 85 lbs. and then taken up running, etc. Thanks!!

  2. I just saw this move the other day and my son watched it with me. I loved it. I wish there were more movies like this - and to me the best part was the end when they showed the real Brittney. I would have liked to see more of the training. It seemed a little rushed how she went from party girl to marathon girl - but the actress nailed it. Very inspiring and motivating. I loved that it captured my teenagers attention as well - running is not a sport many teens participate in and I guess my son said Amazon is really advertising the heck out of this movie.

    We need more running motivational movies out there. When I was little there was Terry Fox from Canada. I still remember him. We don't have many role model runners anymore unfortunately.

    I also watched the Nova movie "Marathon" which is similar. They take three or four random people and see if any one can run a marathon. If you haven't seen it I would recommend it. There is no humor or plot but it is real and inspiring. It is old probably 10 years old by now.

  3. I'm so glad you watched it! I literally thought of you and compared you throughout the movie, lol! Oh, Katie had a stress fracture too, etc! Although I have never taken up running, it was inspiring and so relatable. I'm glad you are spreading the word because it was worthy of more press.

  4. I just watched this yesterday! I loved it so much.

  5. I LOVED this movie. I thought parts were HYSTERICAL! When she is singing her made up jingle on her first run...SO funny! I literally had to rewind after that part b/c I was laughing so hard I missed the next few scenes. I do agree with other however, the ending did seem rushed and I thought they could have done a better job of the timeline from her stress fracture to her finishing the marathon. Overall LOVED it!


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