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Brittany Runs a Marathon

No longer playing in Helena

(R)

Grade: B+

We meet 28-year-old Brittany just before she hits bottom.

First, her doctor tells her that both her body mass and her blood pressure are too high.

“Lose 50 pounds,” he advises. She chides that he doesn’t seem to understand that heavy people are beautiful, too.

“I know it’s hard to hear this,” he says.

Brittany’s usual cure for the blues is to head for the bar and buy drinks for people.

“I’m broke and I’m fat,” she says, through tears.

“Brittany Runs a Marathon” sounds like a formula film about a woman summoning her inner Rocky Balboa and running 26 miles. Rocky’s statue actually appears in the film.

Blessedly, “Brittany” is a sensitive portrait of a woman’s search for connection and for purpose as she heads toward 30. A story of weight loss quickly deepens to address a host of issues which are keeping Brittany from loving herself.

The power of “Brittany” lies in its willingness to address the inevitable struggles in any campaign for personal improvement – whether weight, smoking, drinking, entitlement. All research points to high odds for failure or, in a best case, continuous relapses during the slow road to success.

One of the demons in weight loss programs is co-dependence. Simply put, friends and family often pull against a person’s self-improvement program. Whether it’s coaxing a person to eat dessert or to go drinking, social pressure can undermine good intentions.

“Brittany” seems to understand this. We meet a dysfunctional svelte roommate who eggs Brittany into partying and who sarcastically talks about the dangers of being too thin.

We also watch Brittany over-train for a marathon, leading to overuse and injury. These realistic detours give the film credibility. (I can hear Tana, PT extraordinaire, whispering “overuse” in my ears.)

Granted, we move from Weight Watchers to Hollywood Watchers in the last 20 minutes, but the bulk of this story rings true – and even the ending includes a realistic limp or two.

The film also includes an offbeat romance between Brittany and Jern (Utkarsh Ambudkar), a drifting millennial who dog-sits for a living. They meet on a dog gig. Jern has no purpose in life, but he has a good heart. He becomes Brittany’s confidant – he’s struggling, too, and so he’s not judgmental.

She also finds other allies. Brittany’s always despised the lady in her apartment who runs all the time and seems to flaunt her healthy lifestyle. But when Brittany finally collapses in tears, it’s Catherine-the-great who knocks on her door offering to help.

Predictably, Brittany is too fragile to allow hugs. But Catherine, who has her own life struggles, knows that she must hug a porcupine. So, Catherine persists, takes the quills and coaxes Brittany into taking steps to improve her life.

Brittany joins Catherine’s running club, which is aimed at the New York Marathon. Seems like biting off too much too fast, we think. Yup.

Along the way, Brittany bares her soul. She talks of how she covers her low self-esteem by being funny. She “jokes” about how fat people are supposed to be funny – and Brittany is often laughing when she’s not crying.

Casting Jillian Bell in the lead was inspired. She was a writer on SNL, and appeared in “Bridesmaid” as “girl at shower.” Bell lost 40 pounds during this filming.

Brittany steps onto the scales many times to find out she’s gained weight. Sometimes that moment leads to binge eating: “What’s the point?” she says.

But in the back of her head is the doctor’s advice and her own desire to take control of her life. So, she keeps pushing and, with the help of her loving friends, she makes slow and steady progress.

I know this struggle. Weight Watchers helped me downsize 35 years ago. And my wonderful doctor, Richard Sargent (how dare you retire!), guided me down 40 in the past four years. But it’s hard. I won the first battle briefly, then lost the battle. I know success requires persistent monitoring of lifestyle and diet, plus exercise. Traveling makes it tougher. Socializing makes it tougher. But as WW says, nothing tastes as good as feeling fit feels – so onward. Salads and swimming, everlasting. Overuse be damned.

So, I appreciated a portrait of Brittany with enough realism to avoid becoming what one critic called “Rocky in Running Shoes.” We know we’ll break the tape in the end, but it’s a mostly-earned happy ending, preceded by enough tears for us to leave the theater feeling thoughtful rather than manipulated.

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