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Brittany Runs a Marathon is a little flat-footed, but the larger context offers some good food for thought.

Big People

Brittany keeps running and running...
Brittany keeps running and running...

Even though the map for Brittany’s marathon runs through a lot of chick flick territory, this one offers more than estrogen-fueled emotions and bumper sticker wisdom.

Brittany Forgler (Jillian Bell, Rough Night) is a cut-up while working as an usher at an off-Broadway theater, cracking jokes and making smart-alecky comments to patrons. That side of her is quirky and rather likable. But she also lives a life chock full of bad choices. She’s known to frequent pricey night clubs, where she enjoys swanky drinks and inhalable substances. She also performs favors in the restroom. That side of her is more challenging to appreciate, to put it politely.

It’s all part of Brittany’s persona. At times she’s cool and at other times, not so much. When she succumbs to that dark side, she’s downright unbearable.

As it happens, a visit to the neighborhood clinic (in hopes of conniving a prescription for Adderall out of the doctor) turns into a wakeup call. The doctor advises the 27-year-old to lose 45-55 pounds; she’s unfit with a BMI of 32 (ranking as obese), she’s 5-foot 6 and pushing 200 pounds. Sure, in this politically correct age, all body types are beautiful. But it’s not a body shaming thing to point out the simple fact not all body types are healthy.

Broke, painfully single and fat, with a faulty liver (maybe), the fatal blow to Brittany’s diminished ego is when she learns she can’t even adopt a dog from a kill shelter. They’re afraid the dog wouldn’t have the future it deserves.

Little Goals

So, Brittany Runs a Marathon also walks a tightrope. It’s at turns funny and dramatic. The titular character is a flawed individual, which is fine — the whole point is she’s looking to better herself, a cause worth cheering. As it happens, it’s also based on a true story. The real-life inspiration, Brittany O’Neill, is a friend of the movie’s writer/director, Paul Downs Colaizzo, who chose this material for his first feature film. In another merging of film and reality, Jillian Bell’s engaging performance as Brittany led Bell herself to shed 40 pounds.

The primary story, about Brittany’s quest to lose weight, never reaches its own euphoric Rocky moment (even though Brittany’s Philly ties bring her to the foot of the famed Rocky Balboa statue at the Philadelphia Museum of Art). That storyline actually falters a bit; drama mounts after Brittany sustains a fracture — foiling her planned attempt to run the marathon with a couple new-found friends. Brittany has to wait a whole year for her next chance to conquer the New York City Marathon, but it’s an overall relaxed, casual storytelling experience. The drama’s not that heavy and the race anticipation isn’t heart-pounding.

But even as the marathon angle itself teeters, the marathon is in many respects merely a device from which more interesting material hangs. From this point of view, Brittany turns into a rather fascinating study of today’s maddening society and its incessant demands and expectations. People judge all the time — and base their verdicts on all the wrong evidence.

Consider all the nasty people in Brittany’s life. They’re nasty to different degrees, in different appearances, in different manners. But, nonetheless, it could be argued Brittany’s biggest problem isn’t her body’s weight, but the weight imposed upon her by the people in her life.

For one, there’s her roommate, Gretchen (Alice Lee, TV’s Gap Year), an attractive Asian girl with an equally pretty boyfriend; she anticipates growing her social media following to 25,000 international fans. But her life is vapid. It’s fake. She’s one of so many self-absorbed people living lives that really aren’t that interesting. And, further revealing her true nature, she’s jealous of a YouTube star with a lazy eye — and whose online success has earned her sponsorships.

Long Distances

Notice how people project their own insecurities and biases and prejudices onto others. The concern for Brittany is in how she allows it all to infect her life and how she responds to it. Here’s where the movie offers thoughts worth considering. Do those people cause her to induce self-sabotage? Do they influence her course of action? Do they dissuade her from pursuing her own goals and dreams?

Problematically, Brittany participates in that same behavior, inflicting her misery on others, including a woman who lives in the apartment directly above her. That’s Catherine (Michaela Watkins, TV’s Transparent). Brittany envisions her as a spoiled woman with plenty of money, but the reality is Catherine has her own monumental struggles to contend with — a nasty divorce and a contentious custody battle.

As Catherine gently eases her way into Brittany’s life, things change. Catherine’s a positive influence, but she keeps a safe distance at first. Others follow, including Seth (Micah Stock, TV’s Escape at Dannemora), whom Brittany meets at a running event, and Jern (Utkarsh Ambudkar, TV’s The Mindy Project), a jerky individual she meets while pet sitting for a wealthy couple. He does the night shift but decided to move in full time.

Part of Brittany’s purging, then, is not just the weight. As she adds these new friends — the ones who actually show up to cheer her on from the sidelines of one of the world’s most famous marathons — she sheds the toxic people who do more harm than good.

While it is based on a true story, the end product here shows some narrative strains that come from a first-time feature writer/director. The marathon doesn’t offer a sense of dread or an adrenaline rush or a well-needed sense of accomplishment. It comes across as a little too staged with Bell looking nowhere near as disheveled as her last-gasp behaviors would suggest.

As for the fits-and-starts romantic relationship between Jern and Brittany, it wreaks of over-simplification and audience manipulation. But at least it keeps the characters lurching forward to a promising future.

The kind even a dog could desire.