Movie reviews: 'Brittany Runs a Marathon' is more than a sports film
Richard Crouse, Special to CTV News
Published Friday, August 30, 2019 7:00AM EDT
BRITTANY RUNS A MARATHON: 4 STARS
When we first meet 28-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 body mass index, 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, and 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 (Micah Stock) a novice athlete who wants to run the 42-kilometre 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.
THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING: 3 ½ STARS
The statistics are familiar but still astounding. Take for instance the Academy Awards. In the 90-year history of the Oscars, only five women have been nominated in the director category and only one, Kathryn Bigelow, has taken a statue home. Eighty-five per cent of 2018’s Top 100 films were written by men. Women represent only one fourth of lead characters on the big-screen. A new documentary, “This Changes Everything,” showcases the statistics that show the female bias in Hollywood’s old boy network, but the film works best when telling the stories direct from the mouths of the women whose careers have been directly affected.
Using archival footage and interviews with A-listers like Meryl Streep, Natalie Portman, Taraji P. Henson, Reese Witherspoon and Cate Blanchett, people who have been “otherized by men,” plus director Maria Giese, showrunner Shonda Rhimes and producer Lauren Shuler Donner, the film is a first-hand account of decades of discrimination.
Director Tom Donahue uses graphs and pie-charts to present the cold hard data but the movie’s beating heart is in its testimonials.
Tiffany Haddish recalls the sense of empowerment she felt watching a fight scene between “Dynasty’s” Alexis Carrington (Joan Collins) and Dominique Deveraux (Diahann Carroll). “This is the first time I saw a black woman with money, wearing diamonds. She’s having conversations with white women like she’s not even black. She slapped this white woman so hard and they wrestled. I was like, ‘What!’ She didn’t even go to jail.”
Chloe Grace Moretz looks back at the making of movies as a teenager. On one shoot her wardrobe included breast enhancement “chicken cutlets.” At just 14 she realized that the industry saw her as an “actress” rather than an actor. It was a self-esteem destroying exercise in being regarded as an object of male gaze rather than performer.
Oscar winner Geena Davis, founder of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, discusses her examination into gender inequality in Hollywood and the steps she has taken to generate the data that can affect industry-wide change. “I had been awakened to how women were portrayed in the media,” she says. “I realized we give them so few opportunities to feel inspired by the female characters.”
The presentation of the information is basic, talking heads, title cards and charts, but the movie’s retelling of the legal fights by the American Civil Liberties Union and Directors Guild of America for equality coupled with the women’s personal stories make for a fascinating and compelling lesson.
“This Changes Everything’s” title is a tongue-in-cheek reference to the industry’s mantra that every successful female aimed project will lead to sweeping change. As the film makes perfectly clear that progress is being made, but there is still has a long way to go. “It is time for our business to wake up and realize it is good economics as well as the right thing to do,” says Witherspoon.
ROAD TO THE LEMON GROVE: 2 STARS
“Road to the Lemon Grove” is an old-fashioned comedy with a serious message about cultural identity.
Nick Mancuso is Guido, a linguistics professor who believes that language is the heart and soul of cultural life. He learns more about his own Italian heritage when, as per his father’s last request, he jets off to Italy to spread the old man’s ashes in a Sicilian lemon grove. The seemingly solemn but simple job is made difficult by his prying Zio Vincenzo (Burt “Paulie from ‘Rocky’” Young) who takes step to prevent Guido from completing the job. Turns out the grove is sacred ground and at the centre of a family dispute. As Guido, accompanied by the ghost of his late father (Charly Chiarelli), navigates his way to the lemon grove—meeting a famous actress Maria Miosogno (Rossella Brescia) along the way—he gets a lesson in who he really is.
Director Dale Hildebrand (who co-wrote the script with Charly Chiarelli) goes heavy with the broad humour, peppering the movie with over-the-top scenes that veer into stereotypical slapstick. Mancuso, best known for serious roles, applies a light touch here, mugging for the camera. There are several genuinely amusing moments but many are marred by the film’s fourth wall-breaking style—tell a joke, explain the joke directly to camera. It feels stagey, as though this may have worked as a theatrical performance for Chiarelli who is best known as a storyteller specializing in one person shows.
“Road to the Lemon Grove” is hammier than the local prosciutto shop but Hildebrand, who is also a cinematographer, has made an undeniably nice looking movie that could double for a Sicilian tourist bureau video. The beautiful scenery may entertain the eye and the film’s nostalgic sense of the importance of family and their sacrifices, though under developed, should resonate with anyone whose forebearers searched for a better life in a new country.