Brittany Runs a Marathon and Paula Cries in a Movie Theater

Friday, October 11, 2019
I have an unconscious bias against women named Brittany. I'll explain. Picture it, 2001, my sophomore year in HS - I was selected to attend an Accounting Careers Summer Camp at The Ohio State University. Yes, it was a thing. And, yes, I've always been a dork, GANG-GANG! I recall three things from that week-long experience. First, Destiny's Child's Bootylicious being on repeat in the common area of the dorm. Second, I won a scholarship for an essay I'd written about my future in Accounting (Ha!). But most memorable was this annoying girl who insisted that we pronounce her name as "Brit-TUH-ny." Each time someone forgot or said her name incorrectly, she would spazz. I spent that week avoiding her and that unnecessary syllable. But, after all of these years, every time I meet a Brittany, in my head, I pronounce it the way Accounting Camp BritTUHny did. She won.

I have been in my movie-watching "bag" lately. From catching J. Lo's fantastic physique at 50 in Hustlers to reliving my adoration of the PBS hit Downton Abbey on the big screen. I also have a movie date planned this weekend with my #Mawm to see my first boyfriend, Will Smith's, Gemini Man. Oh, hey, Jada!

I started seeing marketing drops about an Amazon-backed indie film hitting select theaters titled, Brittany Runs a Marathon. The plot, as described by Amazon Studios:


Hilarious, outgoing and always up for a good time, New Yorker Brittany Forgler is everybody’s best friend ― except maybe her own. At 27, her hard-partying ways, chronic underemployment and toxic relationships are catching up with her, but when she stops by a new doctor’s office to try to score some Adderall, she gets slapped with a prescription she never wanted: Get healthy. Too broke for a gym and too proud to ask for help, Brit is at a loss, until her seemingly together neighbor Catherine pushes her to lace up her Converse sneakers and run one sweaty block. The next day, she runs two. And soon, after finishing her first mile, she sets an almost unthinkable goal: running in the New York City Marathon. Award-winning playwright Paul Downs Colaizzo makes his directorial debut with Brittany Runs a Marathon, an uproarious, irreverent and surprisingly emotional comedy inspired by real events. The irresistible cast, led by Jillian Bell, lends heart and soul to this inspirational story of a party girl who finally finds real friends — and dignity — by taking control of her future, one city block at a time.

I'll be honest, I wasn't exactly sold on it. I figured if anything, I'd catch it on Prime Video when it was released. The preview had funny moments but also showcased the obligatory actress with a prosthetic fat face and body. Ugh. While slightly annoyed by this, I knew that this story was a transformational one and hiring a real fat actress, then forcing her to lose weight to adapt to the storyline was not the best idea. Outside of a few chuckles, the preview seemed to be another interchangeable depiction of a sad/unattractive/lonely/depressed/fat/shy/ unconventional and so on and so on woman. She'd shame her flaws, be embarrassed on some colossal level, undergo an unrealistic makeover, only then to find purpose and the love of her life. And... scene!

I was wrong.

Well, a lot of that actually did take place, but her victorious moment had nothing to do with her weight loss or physical changes. There was a point in the movie when she even got rid of her scale! How on Earth would she know how well she was doing if not for a scale?! Okay, I'll try not to provide too many spoilers. This movie absolutely deserves more attention. My goal in this post was to share parts that resonated with me. Specifically, the moment that made me cry in a movie theater.

Cast
The role of Brittany was played by Jillian Bell, who boasts a long list of acting and writing credits that include Workaholics and SNL. Accompanied by another comedic influence, her father-like/mentor figure in the movie, Demetrious, was cast by Lil Rel Howery. He debuted on TV One's Who's Got Jokes comedy competition back in the mid-2000s. Most recently, Howery was the witty and heroic TSA agent in the box-office phenom, Get Out. And lest I forget, Brittany's nemesis-turned-lover, Jern, played by Utkarsh Ambudkar. Or, to those of us The Mindy Project fans, "Rishi," the irresponsible DJ brother to Mindy Lahiri. He is pretty much the same hilarious character in this film - he's just in his mid-thirties, now.

The acting in this film was great. The cast was quite diverse, which I appreciated. Representation included various ethnicities (#wearetheworld), the LGBTQIA+ community, wealthy and people 'in-between blessings' and of course, individuals with different levels of physical ability. What I appreciated more was that none of them carried the burden of acting out a stereotype. It was effortless coordination of talent, where each person brilliantly delivered on conveying their role in Brittany's journey, as well as their own.

Will the real Brittany please stand up?
Brittany Runs a Marathon was based on the true story of Brittany O'Neill and created/directed by her friend, Paul Downs Colaizzo. Colaizzo, a playwright, began developing a semi-biographical tale of Brittany when she set out on her first run. He did so without her initial knowledge and continued to document her journey for two whole months before revealing his covert operation. When he announced his activity and intent to turn it into a project, she was game! Throw in a few creative liberties, and lively movie-friendly characters and you have a great story.

Fat girls are funny
Who hasn't heard of the jolly fat girl? That's our thing! We might not always 'wow' with our physical appearance, but we can do better - we can make you laugh. In times of awkwardness, and when she needed to get herself out of trouble, you could rely on Brittany to crack a joke or make a funny gesture to avoid dealing with the tough situation at hand. This is also seen in those of us who feel the need to be the nicest, friendliest, funniest, or most accommodating person around to somehow blind others from noticing what we're most insecure about.

Fat girls are easy
There's another stigma that fat girls are easy. Why? Because we will settle for whom and whatever shows us attention *eye-roll*. And if we're given the privilege of being seen in public with someone, there must be another benefit to the man or woman that "chose" us. Brittany, of all people, calls this out at a full table - after observing a plus-sized woman enjoying the company of her partner. It couldn't possibly be because she's a dope human being! There's also a gross and seedy demo of people who prey on fat women because they know others probably aren't knocking down the door to get to them. Well, Brittany played into that, after rejection and lots of drinks - she decided to hook up with a stranger in the restroom of the club. Full disclosure: I don't judge those who are living their best lives in the sexual liberation lane. Do you, boo! Or, them? It's just, when that behavior is destructive (she made the decision under the influence) or rooted in desperation, it might be a good idea to peel back those layers on the why?

Fat girls hate Dr.'s appointments
A trip to the doctor changed Brittany's life. Unfortunately, many of us in the fat community reluctantly see medical professionals or just outright avoid them. I am the Queen of rescheduling appointments with my primary care physician. I just think about the scale that I have to step on before she even graces me with her presence. All roads to any diagnosis or prognosis tend to lead back to our size. Broke your toe? Lose weight. Wrist hurting? Lose weight! Can't hear out of your right ear? Lo... you get the point. The fear of being told what you already know can be humbling, but a mostly embarrassing experience. Especially if any of your ailments are actually tied to your physical state. I will say, there are plenty of people who range high on the infamous and controversial Body Mass Index chart, that don't have hypertension, diabetes, etc. Umm, not me (lol), but they do exist! Also, from contraception to antidepressants, and in my case - Multiple Sclerosis therapies, fat people do have other medical needs that don't revolve around our weight. Shocker! Brittany's motivation for seeing the Doctor was to get prescription Adderall. A medicine that benefits those who suffer from ADHD, but is often abused for its euphoric and aphrodisiac effects. She sold herself as a busy, wholesome woman who just needed a little help staying alert during the day. After noticing a club stamp on her hand, and listening to her horrible attempt to play on his sympathy, he saw right through her and did not oblige. The writer made it clear that Brittany was not healthy. Tests revealed that her lifestyle had resulted in high cholesterol and blood pressure and that she was on a path to disaster if she didn't start making better decisions.

Gym extortion
One of the funniest parts in the movie was Brittany walking out of a trendy up-scale gym after having a "consultation" with a trainer. She couldn't quite reason with the idea of paying a hefty monthly bill for something she could do outdoors... for free. Gyms are great, and trainers are awesome if you can afford one. But it's not the end all be all. Some of the best and most effective workouts can happen right at home with inexpensive dumbbells, an aerobic step or resistance bands, in a park or down a sidewalk. After coming to the realization that the gym was not the place for her, she set out (with many false starts) to start running outside of her apartment building. She took one free step, then one block, which led to a mile and a marathon.

Family Pathology / Abandonment
Obesity runs in my family! Okay, nothing really runs in my family - or we'd be fit. I am by no means qualified to psychoanalyze anyone, a character, let alone myself. But, the backstory to Brittany's issues seemed to be rooted in her upbringing. Her father, who had passed away by this time, was a heavier man who had health complications, potentially as a result. Her mother, at some point, had left her father and abandoned their family entirely. I'm sure Iyalna Vanzant or Dr. Phil would have a field day articulating the correlation to their family dynamic and Brittany's current state. But, I share to simply say that the relatability from both of these factors was significant. I grew up in a family where health always seemed to be critical, and some of it was driven by abuses to include but certainly not limited to food. I was also abandoned by a parent, my Father. I was blessed to be raised by an amazing, strong single Mom, that did everything to make our lives the best they could be. Still, as a 6-year-old little girl (and sometimes in adulthood), I wondered, why did my father leave? What did I lack?? Was I not good enough to keep him connected to me, or our family? If the man who had helped bring me into this world couldn't bother to love or care for me... who would? Okay, yuck, no more deep dives on this segment, just sharing that this part hit home! And, yes, I'm in therapy.

Opposites Attract / Everyone Struggles
Have you ever created a villain in your mind? Prejudged someone by what they look like, what they have? And do you ever give these people judgey nicknames? C'mon, we all do it. A prime example of this was portrayed by "Money Bag Martha," as Brittany referred to her. Her neighbor's actual name was Catherine, played by actress Michaela Watkins. She was a thin (thigh gap on fleek), fit, wealthy, famous artist that everyone seemed to love, well, besides Brittany. What Brittany didn't realize was that she was dealing with her own obstacles. While she appeared to have it all, no one knew that she was a recovering drug addict, going through an ugly divorce and on the brink of losing custody of her children. Heavy! As her story unfolded, it proved that all that glitters ain't gold, and you never know what someone is going through. A take away from Catherine, aka Money Bag Martha's role, was that amid her struggle, she kept running. Not that running solved any of her most significant problems, it was the one thing that she could control.

(Fake) Friends.. how many of us have them?
The story is simple but is engaging when you watch how all of the figures in Brittany's life evolve. In comes her roommate and best friend Gretchen, played by Alicia Lee. When Brittany is at her worst, Gretchen is there to make it better (or worse?). I call these the "one more shot" friends. When Brittany made the decision to become a healthier version of herself, she had to make some changes. No more hangover-inducing wild nights out on the town. She had to get up early in the morning to run. That's simple enough for anyone to understand. Not Gretchen. The person she knew was not that same. Her crutch, her pet, the "fat friend," was building a life of her own! Instead of supporting her like a good friend should, she chose to humiliate Brittany and question her ability to accomplish her goals. Brittany moved out of the apartment and ended that toxic friendship. Sometimes fat isn't the only thing you lose on journeys. Luckily, throughout the story, Brittany forged new, healthy friendships and relationships.

Scale betrayal and revolt
One of my favorite parts of the movie occurred when Brittany threw her scale away. She was in a groove, running, changing her lifestyle, and the scale seemed to be co-signing her efforts. She'd lost over 30 pounds at one point and was on top of the world. Until.. she wasn't. Over time, no matter what she did, that pesky scale would not budge. Plateaus are INFURIATING! Especially when you're doing everything right. Throughout the story and the more she matured, she realized that she had to stop living for the number on the scale, and place more focus on her real goal - her health and that 26.2 miles.

The reality of failure and balance
Her path to success was NOT a direct flight. There were layovers, delays and lost luggage. It took years before Brittany ultimately reached her goals. I appreciated this realistic take on a journey. The film showed her physical and emotional setbacks in training, her binges to her finding a healthy balance of enjoying a "slice" and still being considered healthy or a runner. Like most quality things, it was a process and it took time.

Mile 22...The moment I cried

While it's considered a comedy, this movie was also a dramatic emotional rollercoaster, or should I say marathon? In one of the final scenes, Brittany finally makes it to the New York City Marathon. The pinnacle! Her dream! The race starts, she's coasting, she's in there! Then pain struck at mile 22. Noooooo!!!

Personally, the last few years have brought a few challenges to my family, personal, and professional life. Simply put, I always feel like I can't catch a break. Like, no matter how much I work, do good and set myself up for the best possible outcome - it seems like something always happens in the 11th hour to throw me off guard and render any chance of success to dust.

Brittany falling to the ground, in excruciating pain at mile 22, invoked a feeling I've felt before. The threat of another "failure." After all that she did to transform her life? And this is how it ends? The tears welled up in my eyes. Or, the air conditioning triggered my sinuses - very possible. Being fully invested in this story at this point and watching her become this better version of Brittany, I wanted to see her succeed!

I tried adjusting my thinking at that moment. I prepared myself for the movie to end without her actually finishing the marathon. The title says 'runs,' it didn't confirm that she finished. Plus, isn't running 22 miles a badass accomplishment?! Why would that be overshadowed by forgoing the 4.2 miles that remained? Success looks different in everyone's eyes. Maybe that was the moral of this story? If not, it's what I gathered from this moment.

But, alas, it's a movie. And the underlying feel good, happy tone of this story resurfaced. Brittany rose up off the concrete with the assistance of a race volunteer and kept going. Along the way, those supportive friends were all she heard in a sea of cheers. She did it. She crossed the finish line.

Needles to say, I absolutely recommend seeing this film in theaters, or when it's released later this year on Amazon. It was funny, genuine, and even had quite a few twists. I know it seems like I told the whole story, but there's so much more - I promise! It was also chock full of some pretty interesting life lessons.

You changing your life was never about your weight. It was about you taking responsibility for yourself. - Lil Rel Howrey's Character, Demetrious

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