Life can sometimes feel like a marathon with a lot of work, focus and training to achieve a goal, whatever that goal may be. In writer-director Paul Down Colaizzo’s debut film “Brittany Runs A Marathon,” that idea is exemplified in more ways than one.
Writer-director Paul Downs Colaizzo talks debut film, ‘Brittany Runs a Marathon’
Colaizzo’s breakout film follows Brittany, a twenty-something New Yorker who spends more time and money on booze and fast-food than on her own personal well-being and health. When Brittany realizes her health is in a downward spiral (thanks to a doctor quite literally telling her she’s obese), Brittany decides to get healthy. At first the goal for the virgin exerciser is just running a block, but as time goes on those blocks turn into miles and those miles turn into training for a marathon.
For Colaizzo, this movie hits a personal note— Brittany is based on one of his best friends and her own journey. “I was inspired to tell this complicated story about a woman who’s an archetype in comedies that we’ve typically looked at as just the butt of a joke. I wanted to dimensionalize her to be the hero. She’s a character that has so many layers that are often unexplored. I wanted her journey to feel funny and fun, but also real, challenging, emotional and cathartic for anybody who watched it. So the idea was to take this archetype of a character, zoom in on her and demand that she be a human in front of us and see what happens.”
The demand was met by Jillian Bell, who stars as Brittany. Bell’s comedic chops have been showcased by her roles in other projects such as “Workaholics” and “22 Jump Street,” but the role of Brittany called for a more vulnerable outlook, which Bell and Colaizzo knocked out of the park.
“It was clear that [Jillian] wanted to protect the character in the same way I did— she wanted to make sure we were telling a fun, funny and engaging story, but also that we were never going to laugh at Brittany in a way that was disrespectful. Jillian also really had a strong personal connection from the experiences of the character, and she wanted to explore those in her work while also hoping she could stretch herself and prepare to do something that she had never done before. Meanwhile, I had never directed anything before so I was in the same position, and the two of us looked at each other and placed bets on each other— we had to trust each other. So we found our way to each other very beautifully.”
Brittany’s journey to get healthy and run the New York City Marathon is compelling, but also not easy. Like any life lesson or transitional period, there are ups and downs. “I think a lot of the time when we’re doing work on ourselves we’re convinced it’s the right work on ourselves, and whatever we’re focused on is the core of our problems. In reality, our core issue is most likely much deeper and more invisible to us than we know,” says Colaizzo. “So I wanted to show that Brittany was starting to make healthier choices in her life, but was also getting sidetracked by the validation she was getting from making those choices instead of the actual vulnerability work that we all struggle with.”
Brittany’s struggles include a romantic tug-of-war with an immature yet charming “co-worker” she meets through a house-sitting service (Jern), an unhealthy friendship with her social media-obsessed roommate (Gretchen) and a tumultuous relationship with her uptight neighbor and forced running-buddy (Catherine). While Brittany plays emotional yo-yo with all of these characters on her journey, she also discovers that everyone is dealing with their own marathon-sized problems— which is what Colaizzo hopes audiences themselves take away from the film.
“The idea is that Brittany is everybody and Brittany’s journey is universal which is why all of the other characters are running their own metaphorical marathon at the same time. The way that marathons are accomplished, comes from Catherine’s line film which is to set little goals,” says Colaizzo. “I’m hoping that along with being entertained and having laughed and being ultimately satisfied with their emotional journey in the theater, that people also leave the theater applying Brittany’s story to their own. It’s the idea that change is possible and even if we doubt ourselves, there’s something inside of you that’s nagging you to see how far you can go with something just by starting with a little goal. If we’re able to change lives while also entertaining people with this film, then we’ve done our jobs.”