Brittany used to have a lot of potential. A Columbia graduate, the 28-year-old had high hopes of busting into the world of marketing and pursuing a promising career.
Then life happened.
Now Brittany lives with a peppy, social-media obsessed roommate in New York City and is constantly reminded of just how depressing her existence has become. She makes jokes and uses laughter to escape her sadness. But often that isn’t enough, and indulging in a strong drink or meaningless sexual encounter seems better than facing the disappointing reality of her unmet expectations.
Brittany probably would have continued with these patterns for the rest of her life, but her doctor warns her that her poor choices and high BMI could lead to serious health issues. He suggests taking up healthy diet and getting more exercise.
That might seem easy. But not for Brittany. It’s not as if she’s naturally athletic or inclined to throw on some running shoes and spandex. No, Brittany will have to force herself to get healthy for the first time in a long time. And what better way to do that than to train for the New York City Marathon.
As you can imagine, running 26.2 miles is no, ahem, walk in the park. And if Brittany hopes to kick her bad habits, she’ll have to make extreme changes and push the limits in every area of her life.
At first, Brittany is constantly envious of the lives of her friends. She especially envies her roommate, Gretchen. A beautiful woman, Gretchen lives to post on social media for her ever-growing number of followers.
But as Brittany’s self-esteem grows and she begins to see her own value, she realizes that Gretchen’s life isn’t an authentic one and that her obsession with social media and gaining likes is toxic. At one point, Gretchen tries to get Brittany to come out and party, but Brittany refuses and chooses a healthier lifestyle. Over time, Brittany becomes more kind, learns to set personal boundaries in her life, and begins to focus on her emotional and physical well-being as she understands her self-worth.
A kind woman teaches Brittany about the importance of not letting culture dictate her happiness, even after Brittany offends her. She also tells Brittany that you don’t have to be a size 2 to be happily married and in love. In fact, when you learn to love yourself, you’re better able to love others.
Brittany’s much older brother-in-law, Demetrius, as well as her sister, Cici, function almost like Brittany’s pseudo-parents. Demetrius admits to Brittany that he put his own life and education on hold so that he could raise her and give her the best life possible. Demetrius is like a father to Brittany, and it is evident that they have a special bond.
Brittany develops a friendship (and then romance) with a guy named Jern. At first glance, he seems like a deadbeat. But Jern turns out to be a sweet man with talent and passion. Jern sees the beauty in Brittany when she can’t. He remains positive about marriage, even though his (as well as Brittany’s) parents are divorced. And he encourages Brittany to be comfortable with who she is.
Catherine, Brittany’s neighbor, is consistently kind, forgiving and encouraging. Although Brittany is rude and harsh toward Catherine at first, she eventually learns to love Catherine and to invest in her life. Catherine is also responsible for helping Brittany get into running, telling her that life is made up of small goals. She says that when we take things little by little, life becomes less overwhelming.
A man jokes about an ambulance being a bad omen. An athlete wears a cross necklace.
Brittany is accustomed to being used and degraded by men. Becuase of this, she has incredibly low self-esteem. While in a club, a man asks Brittany for oral sex. She refuses at first, appaled. But she figures it’s the only kind of intimacy she’ll ever have, so she agrees. (Nothing is shown but the encounter is insinutated as Brittany excuses herself to the bathroom with the man).
We watch Brittany’s physical transformation throughout the film as she becomes increasingly confident and self-assured. At the beginning, we see Brittany’s back as she struggles to put on a sports bra. Later, Brittany holds a shirt up to her chest as she examines her stomach and thighs while wearing only underwear. These aren’t necessarily sexual moments, but rather scenes that show Brittany becoming comfortable with who she is as a woman; they show how her body is changing as she embraces a more active lifestyle
As Brittany slowly loses weight and becomes more confident and comfortable with her own body, she goes out on a date. During one date in particular, Brittany and her date start making out in his bed. Brittany cuts things short and goes home.
Brittany is determined to have sex with Jern. Although he’s confused by her advances at first, the two eventually end up between the sheets. They make out. Jern’s shirt comes off. He looks for a condom. We see the pair in bed together, and her shoulders are visible in an encounter that includes suggestive sounds and movements.
There are a couple of verbal and visual references to a guy being aroused.
One of Brittany’s friends, Seth, is gay and married to another man, and they have two children. Seth talks about teaching his son about the negative effects of gender stereotyping. Seth and his partner are briefly seen lying in bed together (fully clothed) with their two kids. Gay pride flags are flown at the New York City marathon.
We hear jokes about standing under a pregnant woman when her water breaks. We also hear crude jokes about sex, homosexual intercourse, pedophelia and parental affairs. A magazine references “having sex with your ex.” Other jokes and dialogue reference herpes and sexual frustration. A woman is referred to as “slutty” and “ugly.” A married man flirts with a single woman while his wife is present. Brittany jokingly ties her medical gown on backward, revealing cleavage.
Brittany jokes that everyone she knows is dead. We hear that Brittany’s father passed away when she was a young girl.
God’s name is misused 10 times, often paired with “d–n,” and Jesus’ name is abused four times. The f-word is heard nearly 40 times and “freakin’” is used once. We hear the s-word nearly 20 times. Other profanity includes a few utterances each of “b–ch,” “d–k,” “h—,” “a–hole” and “a–.” We hear crude slang for parts of the female anatomy.
Some characters are told to “shut up” and are told they’re “stupid” and “idiots.”
Brittany and friends drink wine, hard liquor and take shots at a club. Brittany gets drunk and, when offered pills from an unlabeled bottle, takes them and later vomits from the hangover. Brittany’s roommate, Gretchen, frequently uses alcohol to escape from life’s problems. Gretchen asks Brittany to smoke weed. Jern offers Brittany marijuana, and it’s insinuated that the two smoke it.
Catherine, Brittany’s neighbor, admits to being a former heroin addict. When Catherine is prescribed oxycodone for an injury, her ex-husband maliciously uses the prescribed medication against her to win a custody battle. A doctor tells Brittany that many patients abuse Adderall.
Brittany struggles with low self-esteem and rejection throughout most of the film. When she was a little girl, her mother left the family to pursue an acting career. After that, her father became slowly depressed. Brittany tried desperately to make her father laugh and to love him well, but eventually he died.
Brittany’s childhood trauma is shown to be a significant root of her low self-esteem, poor choices and negative behaviors. She struggles to let people get emotionally close to her, preferring to keep a safe distance. She is often rude and dismissive of others’ feelings.
At a family dinner, Brittany publicly insults an overweight woman, shaming her and making her cry. Brittany also feels that her life issues and struggles are more significant and more difficult than those of others around her, causing her to belittle the feelings and opinions of those she loves.
Brittany considers her shallow roommate, Gretchen, to be her best friend throughout some of the film. But Gretchen calls Brittany fat and tells her she will never be anything “but a fat girl.” And as Brittany begins to make positive changes, Gretchen ignores her and belittles her personal goals.
Brittany says that her application for animal adoption was rejected by a shelter. (This is played as a joke, but it illustrates and reinforces Brittany’s sense of rejection.) Brittany and Catherine joke about having slept on dead rats at some point while living in New York City.
Some racist jokes are heard. Brittany jokes about vomiting and defecating. She’s told that some people who run marathons involuntarily urinate and/or defecate on themselves. Brittany lies about her resume. She also uses laughter and jokes as a defense mechanism.
I didn’t have many expectations going into this movie. I knew it was going to be about a woman who chooses running shoes over wine, but I didn’t expect to be as moved as I was.
As a woman myself, I’ve dealt with so many of these negative body images for most of my life. I’ve wrestled with the opinion of others, against my own negative self-talk and against lies. And the more I learned to love myself, the freer I’ve become.
Likewise, Brittany Runs a Marathon is largely a story about freedom. Not just physical freedom, but emotional freedom, too. And its redeeming themes will likely resonate with many viewers, especially women who’ve gone through similar struggles.
Despite its positive messages, though, there’s still plenty here that makes Brittany Runs a Marathon worthy of its R rating. Sexual content can be jarring and cringe worthy. Drug use and alcohol abuse is present and language is harsh. Ultimately, Brittany’s character growth, while in many ways praiseworthy, still asks viewers to run through a marathon of content themselves.