Brittany Runs a Marathon
More than a makeover movie.
Streaming on Amazon Prime | 2019 | R | 1h 43m
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance
Why We Watched: I was browsing movies on Prime and clicked on BRAM just to see what it was about. Thirty minutes later I accepted that my choice was made; BRAM grabbed me and wouldn't let me go!
You Might Also Like: The Devil Wears Prada (which you can rent for $1.99 on Prime) is another of my favorite more-than-a-makeover movies. And you'll definitely want to (re)binge Queer Eye on Netflix after this!
I really enjoyed Brittany Runs a Marathon, but I also felt a little uneasy about it. It's been a few weeks since I first watched the movie, and I needed that time to ponder before recommending it. Ultimately, I think BRAM is more than just a makeover movie, and it's the "more" that takes some teasing out, but that also makes it worth watching.
Makeover movies are beloved in American pop culture. Think Clueless, The Princess Diaries, She's All That, Pretty Woman, etc. These movies have Mean Girls (pun intended) we love to hate and underdogs we can't help rooting for. But they're often pretty toxic. Suggesting that someone needs a makeover, after all, is a declaration that they aren't good enough the way they are. To fix the problems in their lives (not popular, not royal, not fashionable) these girls (because they are almost always girls) need to wear makeup, get a new hairstyle, buy new clothes—basically, get prettier. And it's usually wealthy, attractive, successful people who tell our protagonists they need to improve and who initiate (and often fund) their makeovers.
BRAM stands apart from the genre because Brittany decides to make herself over. And she starts with small goals that aren't—at first—driven by appearance or popularity. She takes up running because her doctor tells her she's unhealthy, and because she wants to take control of her life and work toward something. Her job performance is poor, her love life is unsatisfying, she's binge drinking and using drugs, and her friendships are unfulfilling. She lacks direction, and she's really, really unhappy—despite the happy face she puts on for friends, coworkers, and strangers. She's everyone's "funniest friend", but no one notices or cares that the comic relief she provides is barely masking deep insecurity.
As Brittany beats the pavement with new running buds Catherine (Michaela Watkins) and Seth (Micah Stock) at her side, the weight she loses is a welcome side effect... but it soon also becomes a negative one. Brittany started running for internal reasons, but soon she becomes really obsessed with the more cosmetic changes she's seeing and she becomes more unkind to her former self.
There's a pivotal scene where Brittany, disappointed and drunk, spews ugly, cruel words at a fat woman who arrives at a dinner party Brittany is attending. I won't give everything away, but the altercation isn't pretty, and it makes you realize that self-improvement—even if the journey is started for the right reasons—can quickly become about the wrong reasons and turn toxic.
I was initially worried this movie was problematic because it does sort of seem to suggest that fat people, especially, need to improve themselves. But the movie also makes it clear that being thin hasn't made Brittany a better person; she's mean and distant and selfish. Her big breakthrough comes when SHE realizes that. And the fat-shaming she's internalized all her life is just as unhealthy as the binge-drinking and binge-eating before her transformation.
Around this time of year, we hear a lot about self-improvement. How you need to develop new habits, have more self-discipline, etc. in order to become a newer, better you. Friends, you contain multitudes—you already are the newer better you! All that's holding you back is the damage that you or others have done to you. This year, let's release ourselves from limiting beliefs and let go of our burdens. You'll feel so light that maybe you'll even feel capable of something crazy incredible like running a marathon.
That's what Brittany does in this movie, and it's inspiring—more so because it's inspired by the real story of one Brittany O'Neill, a good friend of BRAM writer and director Paul Downs Colaizzo. At the beginning of this new decade, that's what I encourage you to do: leave behind all the things weighing you down and holding you back. Oh, and watch some Netflix, of course.
Happy streaming—and Happy New Year! Grace