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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Brittany Runs a Marathon is a heartfelt dramedy about a woman (Jillian Bell) who changes her life when she starts running regularly. The movie maintains an uplifting tone despite many uncomfortable scenes in which people treat each other badly. Characters change slowly over the course of the movie and learn how to be kinder to others and to themselves, but before they get there, they demonstrate some iffy behavior. Brittany and her friend/roommate use substances irresponsibly: they take unnamed prescription pills, use something in a vape pen, and binge drink. Brittany also smokes pot (marijuana is decriminalized in New York, where the movie is set). Sexual content includes a scene in which a man asks for (and, the movie implies, receives) oral sex from Brittany at a dance club and another in which characters who've gotten to know and respect each other have what looks to be mutually pleasurable sex with moaning and movements (no nudity). Several uncomfortable scenes involve fat-shaming, though the movie depicts this practice as wrong; the movie can also be seen as supporting the idea that "real" runners are slim/lean. Language is frequent but generally used in the context of humor: "f--k," "bitch," "a--hole," "goddamn," "bulls--t," etc. A diverse cast inhabits relatable characters, who make mistakes but then try (and succeed!) at doing better. Themes include courage, perserverance, and self-control.
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What's the story?
We meet the hero of BRITTANY RUNS A MARATHON (Jillian Bell) at a low point. She's dissatisfied with her job, doesn't have many friends, has no romantic prospects on the horizon, and basically covers up her crushing loneliness with self-deprecating humor. Then a visit to a doctor in hopes of scoring prescription Adderall goes south when he tells her she's in trouble healthwise. Brittany fears it's too late to stop her life from sliding into the toilet. But she's not quite ready to throw in the towel, so she gives running a try. At first she can barely make it to the end of her block. But as time passes and she keeps at it, she finds her stride -- in more ways than she dared hope for.
Is it any good?
Audiences who've seen a few female-focused "nottie to hottie" movies could be forgiven for thinking this gorgeous, affecting movie might be similarly shallow and misogynistic -- but they'd be wrong. Brittany is a delight from the moment she shows up on screen, with every one of her mercurial emotions visible on her face as we watch her navigating her not-good-enough life: the nothing job she doesn't work hard at, her toxic relationship with her best friend, the men who don't notice her unless they want something from her. In an early scene, Brittany finally gets some attention from a foxy guy at a club who slurs "You're fine" before asking her to join him in the bathroom and offering her a stack of bar napkins: "You can rest your knees on these," he says.
But soon enough, she's lacing up her sneakers and heading out, determined to make at least some changes in her life. Mild spoiler alert: It works. But while having a woman beat a path to betterness through outward physical transformation is truly a cinematic cliche -- witness the many makeovers in movies from Cinderella to Grease to Now, Voyager -- in Brittany's case, it feels both more authentic and deeper. Her physical changes aren't the be-all and end-all of her story. Instead, her metamorphosis comes more from committing to something and finding that she has the inner strength to stick with it than from looking conventionally cuter. And her most lasting changes come not from a smaller dress size but instead from the changed relationships she has with her family and friends. In short, this is no mere makeover movie. It's nothing less than a hero's journey, with a hero you'll want to cheer on.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about movies that involve a transformation. What movies can you think of in which a character changes their life? Is it always a physical transformation? Are characters who experience this type of transformation more often male or female, in your experience? What form do female transformations usually take in the movies?
How does Brittany Runs a Marathon tell viewers what shape Brittany's life is in at the beginning of the movie vs. the end? What changes over the course of the movie, and how do we find out about it? What techniques do movies use to convey changes to a person's outlook or character?
Brittany's physical appearance changes as she gets into running; what does this suggest about body size, health, and athleticism? Is that an accurate message?
- In theaters: August 23, 2019
- On DVD or streaming: November 22, 2019
- Cast: Jillian Bell, Jennifer Dundas, Patch Darragh
- Director: Paul Downs Colaizzo
- Studio: Amazon Studios
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Sports and Martial Arts
- Character strengths: Courage, Perseverance, Self-control
- Run time: 103 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: language throughout, sexuality and some drug material
- Last updated: November 25, 2019
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