I think it’d be fair to say I felt a little bit ‘seen’ by Brittany Runs a Marathon. I’ve not reached the kind of lows that Brittany has, but I can certainly identify with that feeling of having fallen into a rut, and wanting to take radical action to bring about change. For Brittany, whose life revolves around debt, meaningless partying, and toxic relationships, this change is running. Warned by her doctor about the potential health risks of her heavy drinking but sedentary lifestyle, she takes the first steps on her fitness, but also emotional, journey. What results is a fairly light but ultimately heartwarming movie.
I must admit to feeling slightly uncomfortable about the fact that this film was written by a man. There is so much in it that deals with feelings of self-hate born of fatphobia, and about what it feels like to live in a misogynistic, fatphobic society as a woman. There was a sense that this wasn’t really his story to tell. But overall I think the material is handled sensitively and with insight. There were discussions that make for uncomfortable moments, where Brittany talks about being treated ‘like a woman’ on account of having lost weight. But really, I think this reflects some truth: plus-sized women are often dismissed and overlooked. The trappings of womanhood that she refers to are in themselves problematic; they are symptoms of a society that views women’s worth only in terms of their physical appearance and adherence to ‘accepted’ societal norms. Plus-sized women know the truth that women are valued for their bodies alone better than anyone.
I’ve written before about my relationship with food and exercise, and the portrayal of Brittany’s relationship felt very real and honest. The compulsive comfort eating followed by the obsessive need to exercise to make up for it felt very authentic to my own experiences. It was in these moments that the film had the greatest depth – when it was keying into real emotions and experiences. The plot and characters almost felt like just excuses to explore this. Not that the story isn’t a good one. The supporting characters each bring their own experiences, and the message of the film is ultimately that it is through sharing our vulnerability and seeking out support that we can bring about lasting positive change in our lives.
The casual representation of a happy gay couple and their family was wonderful to see: a level of unremarked but real representation that would be great to see more often. Their sexuality is not commented on, it is not central to their plot, it’s just there, and this is really refreshing (YouTuber AreTheyGay has a great video ‘How Comedies are Changing LGBT+ Representation‘ that explores different approaches to representation if you’re interested).
Brittany’s moment of true transformation felt a little too easy, but as it followed a realistic representation of how she got there, I think it can be forgiven. Another aspect that I think the film captured really well is the way our self-hatred leads us to judge and feel prejudiced towards others. Because of her discomfort with her own body, Brittany looks down on those of others. Though this came to a head more frankly and dramatically than is usually the case, I think it was important to address. Brittany’s in person outburst is very similar to what we see online everyday, and to the thoughts that have doubtless crossed the minds of many women (myself included) who have complex relationships with their bodies.
The film also considers how these feelings impact on our romantic relationships. The way we tell ourselves ‘why would X be interested in me?’, reducing ourselves to a number of the scale on societal acceptability, and a low one at that. Our attractiveness to where our bodies sit on an imagined scale of ‘imperfect’ to ‘perfect’. It is all too easy to dismiss our own worth, and to allow ourselves to fall into and stay in toxic relationships (both romantic and platonic) because we think we can’t do or don’t deserve any better. Brittany’s discovery of her own value, and that of honesty friendships and relationships, is surprisingly moving.
All in all I think Brittany Runs a Marathon wins high praise for its honest and authentic examination of its material. Of special note is that Brittany’s change is largely internal: she doesn’t end the film skinny and rich, she ends it satisfied and surrounded by healthy relationships, at ease with herself. Whether you’re familiar with the particular beats of her story or not, that is a narrative we can all buy into.
What did you think of Brittany Runs a Marathon? What other inspirational films about sports would you recommend? And can you think of any films that have such a realistic and positive approach to ‘transformation’? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!