Life comes at you fast. We’ve all experienced a breaking point at one moment or another. However, Hollywood has rarely been able to articulate what that looks like on screen. Based on a real-life story–Brittany Runs a Marathon centers Jillian Bell’s Brittany Forgler, a woman in her late 20s who quite frankly–is barely hanging on by a thread. Haunted by events of her past–Brittany has settled into a life of drinking, partying and being verbally antagonized by her “best friend”/roommate. However, after a routine doctor’s exam-Brittany gets a wakeup call about her physical and mental health that shakes her to her core.
Determined to do something about her health and her circumstances–Brittany begrudgingly takes up running to transform both her body and her soul. However, what she discovers is that the weight laying on her spirit has nothing to do with the size of her body. As she trains to take on the infamous New York City Marathon–Brittany meets some unlikely characters–Jern (Utkarsh Ambudkar) who is also floating through life and Seth (Micah Stock) who has taken up running to prove something to himself.
Ahead of the film’s debut–STYLECASTER chatted with Bell, Ambudkar and Stock about Brittany’s story, true friendship and being kinder to ourselves.
“I think I was looking for something different at the time,” Jillian Bell reflected on taking on the role. “I had done a lot of really fun comedic roles, and I thought I should try to do something different and challenging. I read [the script], and I was so inspired, and I laughed a lot. I cried a lot, and I knew it would be very challenging, but I wanted to take it on, and I didn’t want anyone else to take it. I wanted it to be mine. I had just experienced so many things that were similar to Brittany’s character, so I think I got very possessive of it once I read it.”
For Utkarsh Ambudkar, stepping into Jern’s shoes provided a very different opportunity. “I think it’s a beautiful story,” he said. “I love underdog stories. And then, from a personal standpoint as a South Asian actor, to have the opportunity to play a fully fleshed-out character, that also happens to be a romantic lead in a film –it’s not very common. To have the opportunity to do that was really special to me, and really important to me, and really fun. It’s very different from anything I’ve ever done.”
We’re in a very different time for women where body-positivity and self-acceptance seem to be at the forefront of so many industries. It’s interesting to note that Brittany Runs a Marathon could not have been made even a decade ago. “Director Paul Downs Colaizzo was inspired to write this about his friend,” Bell explained. “When I read it, I thought, ‘I wish I would have seen this when I was 13.’ That would have changed my whole life. The way that I’ve talked about myself in the past and the way that we perceive ourselves –it’s a challenge sometimes as a woman. It’s a transformation story, but it’s different than anything we’ve ever seen. It’s not the typical girl loses weight, and her life is perfect. It really discusses the raw ups and downs of what it’s like when you try to change your life in one way or the other. This isn’t a film about weight. [Brittany] mistakes it for that for a little bit. She starts to get focused in on the number and then she realizes that this was never about that. She had to work on her insides as much as her outsides.”
We’re in an utterly transformative era when it comes to body image–and it’s a beautiful place to be. “People are realizing that there’s a shit-ton of different kinds of people in the world,” Micah Stock reflected. “They had no problems going and seeing movies where they identified with someone who didn’t look anything them. So, why can’t that be true for those people? So, in a general sense, we’re in a wonderful time in that way. But with this movie, specifically in terms of body positivity, one of the things the cast has been talking about is this is not a movie about losing weight. That’s a byproduct of the way she chooses to change her life in a more healthy way. But this is about someone taking license for themselves. The self-loathing that the world inflicted upon her and that she took into herself was so big, no amount of losing weight was going to change that. So what she does is inflict that judgment, and that trauma, on other people.”
To work on herself–Brittany realizes that she has to open up to those around her. She slowly begins to let some of her vulnerabilities shine through. “It is always astonishing to me to come across people who recognize that friendship is about showing up,” Stock explained. “To people who understand that it’s not a big thing. That’s immediately apparent in the script with Seth. That he’s the kind of person who recognizes that you have to show up for people. I think he sees Brittany–he sees a person. They’re going on really similar journeys, and he thinks, ‘We can be there for each other.’ And that’s something that she’s not used to having. She not used to having someone say, ‘You’re trying to change? Me too.’”
Colaizzo refused to let weight-loss be some magical fix-all in the movie–which is why it probably resonates so well. “[Brittany] loses all this weight, and it changes her,” Ambudkar explains. “She gets confident. But then it kind of poisons her, and she becomes hyper-obsessed with the way that she looks. She ties up her value and her self-worth in her external appearance. It’s a timeless lesson that we constantly have to learn in this society that’s based so much on vanity. If the heart’s not happy, you won’t be either.”
One thing that the film reflects upon in addition to mental and physical health is the aimlessness and lack of direction that many millennials have experienced at one point or another. “I think that it is an issue that spans all generations,” Ambudkar said. “That’s why the word late bloomer exists. No matter how old you are, and where you come from, and what you do, I think there’s always something that you wish maybe you had tried, or had done differently, or done earlier, or sooner. We learn lessons every day if we’re willing to learn them. I think it’s a universal theme of missed opportunities, or there are plenty of people we know who still don’t take responsibility for their actions, and their thoughts. I think this movie is a testament to how much self love you can generate when you start doing that.”
In addition to actually training to learn to run and losing 40 pounds for the role–Bell learned something invaluable from Brittany. “I always knew that life would be easier if I were just kinder to myself,” she said thoughtfully. “But there was nothing that pushed me to do it more than this film. Brittany Runs a Marathon made me look at the things I was saying because I was running these lines over and over again, and some of them started to feel really bad. Some of the earlier lines that she says in the film about herself, putting herself down and some of the jokes she was making to disguise how hurt she was –I related to that. It was a sort of therapeutic experience, and it made me look at the way I treat myself. I thought, well, ‘I’ve done it this way for 35 years, what would it be like to be nicer to myself?’ I’m trying to do that now. It feels good.”
Brittany Runs Marathon premieres on August 23, 2019.