Brittany (Jillian Bell of 22 Jump Street) never thought she would one day run the New York City Marathon. In her grand sorting of humanity, there were runners, and then there were people like her — perfectly content couch potatoes. But was Brittany really content with continuing the habits she developed as a freshman in college into her late 20s?
Brittany is a binge-eater, a party animal, and stuck in a dead-end job. The lifestyle affects her health. After a difficult doctor’s appointment, Brittany decides to start working out — and running is simply the cheapest option. Working out spurs a domino effect in Brittany's life. After making this small change, others follow.
What makes Brittany Runs a Marathon so special is that it’s based on a true story. Writer and director Paul Down Colaizzo was inspired by his friend and former college roommate, Brittany O’Neill, who decided to drastically change her life through running. Unlike Brittany of the movie, O’Neill started in the gym in 2011 and soon graduated from the treadmill to running in the park.
“I watched her go for her first run,” Collaizo said at the film’s premiere. “Over the next few weeks after that, I watched her realize she was capable of more than she thought she was, and, as she endured a thrilling and arduous crucible of personal change. Brittany began to shift what she expected from herself. It was a triumph, and I got to witness it.”
After eight months of running, O’Neill set her sights on completing a marathon. She trained using the book Advanced Marathon and the music of Beyonce and Salt n’ Pepa. In November 2014, O’Neill completed the New York Marathon in under her goal time of four hours.
The movie also has the unmistakable whiff of the meta. Brittany Runs a Marathon is about Brittany, but it technically depicts Bell’s fitness transformation. Bell lost 40 pounds while filming the movie to better understand Brittany's emotional journey.
Bell also becomes a runner— her technique purposefully changes over the course of the movie. In early scenes, Bell didn't work with a trainer. Once Brittany moves out of the amateur phase, Bell was coached by a professional marathon training runner.
Part of Brittany Runs a Marathon was actually filmed at the New York Marathon. Participants thought a documentary as being filmed, not a movie. So when Brittany (the character) was struggling, they tried to help her.
At the end of filming, Bell got to meet the real Brittany.
While Bell and Brittany lose weight, the point of Brittany Runs a Marathon is definitely not the weight loss. For a while, Brittany does conflate the number on the scale with self-worth. She becomes addicted to watching the numbers drop. So abandoning that attitude is part of her journey, too.
In another movie, the caustic, badly behaved Brittany would be relegated to the role of sidekick. She'd watch as her slimmer, more conventionally beautiful best friend got to live out a transformation and love story. Not so in Brittany Runs a Marathon — this is all Brittany's story.