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BRITTANY RUNS A MARATHON: 4 STARS. “more than an inspirational sports film.”

When we first meet twenty-eight-year-old Brittany (Jillian Bell) she’s at a low point in her life. Broke and unhappy, she drinks away her morning hangovers and is so unreliable an animal kill shelter rejects her adoption request because they don’t feel she can give the dog the future it deserves.

When her doctor (Patch Darragh) tells her she has a high BMI, placing her firmly in the obese category, she wisecracks, “I feel you completely missed the point of those Dove commercials,” but the news has an effect.

Feeling crappy, an influenced by her upstairs neighbour Catherine (Michaela Watkins) she decides to make some dramatic life changes. “I’m starting to feel like everyone’s life is going somewhere and mine isn’t,” she says.

Step one is exercise. She tries to sign up at a local gym but can’t afford the monthly fee. “I see under your fitness goals you have drawn a frowny face,” says her recruiter (Mikey Day). Instead she takes tentative steps that turn into a run through the streets around her walk-up apartment. With the help of new running friends Catherine, who is changing her life post-divorce and Seth, and Seth (Micah Stock) a novice athlete who wants to run the 26.2-mile New York Marathon to prove to his son it can be done. Together they train with the mantra, “We don’t have to win,” they say, “we just have to finish.”

She’s taking back her life, one block at a time but weeks before the big run Brittany is sidelined, forcing her to examine the deeper reasons she needed to change her life and begin to focus on the things she can control.

There’s a quick shot of Rocky Balboa, another great underdog who transformed through sheer will, in the film’s Philadelphia section. The comparison is apt. Both movies are underdog tales that transcend the sports on display. On the surface “Rocky” is about boxing, just as “Brittany Runs a Marathon” is about running but both have larger themes that examine dissatisfaction, respect, ambition and family. These universal themes, coupled with winning performances from the cast, particularly Bell and Utkarsh Ambudkar as Brittany’s sorta-kinda boyfriend Jern, and big laughs make “Brittany Runs a Marathon” more than an inspirational sports film. It digs deep and the story packs an unexpected emotional punch as it uplifts.

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