Indie Focus: Goals and achievement in ‘Brittany Runs a Marathon’


Hello! I’m Mark Olsen. Welcome to another edition of your regular field guide to a world of Only Good Movies.

There were two mid-week releases earlier this week worth noting. First, the documentary “American Factory,” directed by Julia Reichert and Steven Bognar, a tale of an Ohio glass plant taken over by a Chinese company. In his review, The Times’ Kenneth Turan called the film “a complicated, multifaceted story that deals with very different cultures in combination and collision, a story that both understands global economic issues and has the sensitivity to involve us intimately in the daily lives of the people involved.”

Reichert and Bognar also spoke to The Times’ Josh Rottenberg.

The horror-thriller “Ready or Not” also opened earlier in the week, a story of a young woman (Samara Weaving) who discovers the family she just married into is not only very wealthy, but also has some very dangerous and deranged family traditions. In her review for The Times, Katie Walsh noted: “While the mocking tone mostly undermines any trenchant commentary, the strongest impression ‘Ready or Not’ leaves, thanks to Weaving’s eye-rolling, primal-screaming, evil-giggling performance, is of the cathartic, transformative female rage at the center of it all.”


Having premiered earlier this year at the Cannes Film Festival, Ryûsuke Hamaguchi’s “Asako I & II” is getting a limited run in Los Angeles this weekend, co-presented by LACMA and Acropolis Cinema. In his review for The Times, Justin Chang called the film “a peculiarly potent story about life’s unexpected little ruptures — those odd coincidences, repetitions and shifts in perspective that can set off aftershocks in the human heart.”

And there are two very exciting events at the American Cinematheque coming up this week. On Saturday, there will be a double bill of Jean-Pierre Melville crime movies, “Le Cercle Rouge” and “Bob Le Flambeur.” The filmmaker’s nephew, Remy Grumbach, will be there for an introduction.

Then, on Wednesday, fashion designers and filmmakers Kate and Laura Mulleavy will be at the Aero to introduce Martin Bell’s documentaries “Streetwise” and “Tiny: The life of Erin Blackwell.”

We will have more screening events coming up soon. For info and updates on future events, go to

‘Brittany Runs A Marathon’

The winner of the U.S. dramatic audience award when it premiered earlier this year at the Sundance Film Festival, “Brittany Runs a Marathon” is based on the true story of director Paul Downs Colaizzo’s real-life friend Brittany who decided to get her life together by running a marathon. Jillian Bell plays the title role with a comedic wit and startling emotional edge.


Reviewing the movie for The Times, Kenneth Turan wrote: “A singular amalgam of humor, heartache and self-help … ‘Brittany’ resolutely goes its own way, entertaining us as richly as anything that’s come out in a while.”

Amy Kaufman spoke to Bell and the real-life inspiration for her character, Brittany O’Neill.

“I didn’t know if I would enjoy being in something that had dramatic elements. But I fell in love with doing a movie that wasn’t a straight comedy. I was terrified of it, but I loved it. When I read this, I fell in love with her — I fell in love with you,” Bell said, looking at O’Neill. “I wanted to see this when I was a young girl. I wanted this message out there, and I wanted to be the one to do it.”

At Time, Stephanie Zacharek wrote about the film’s relationship to ideas of fitness and wellness, that it “makes no presumptions about any set notion of ideal weight. It is, more broadly, the story of a woman who isn’t quite sure why she doesn’t like herself — the number on the scale is only part of it — and who takes one step at a time to change that whatever-it-is. ‘Brittany Runs a Marathon’ isn’t about losing weight; it’s about altering the elusive whatever-it-is, which is only the first step toward feeling better about everything.”

For the New York Times, Teo Bugbee wrote: “The best thing that can be said for ‘Brittany Runs a Marathon’ is that it does make long-distance running seem achievable. After all, if Brittany endures such unrelenting emotional anguish on her way to the starting line, how bad can the physical pain of a marathon be?”

‘Tigers Are Not Afraid’

Written and directed by Mexican filmmaker Issa López, “Tigers Are Not Afraid” manages to interweave an examination of the trauma the drug trade inflicts on children with a dark fairy tale. No less than Oscar-winner Guillermo del Toro has become one of the film’s most vocal and visible champions.

Reviewing for the Times, Justin Chang wrote that López “is a fantasist as well as a realist,” and teased out her connection to Del Toro by adding: “Like ‘Pan’s Labyrinth,’ ‘Tigers Are Not Afraid’ is a child’s fable that is itself far too graphic and grim to be appreciated by children. Far from being a problem, this contradiction is evidence of a certain integrity, a determination to use a young girl’s perspective to amplify rather than soft-pedal the horrors of war. On an elemental level, it is hard not to be affected by the clash between these kids, who have had to grow up far too soon, and the gun-toting monsters in their midst.”

For The Times, Carlos Aguilar spoke to López for a story that will be publishing soon. On what draws her to genre filmmaking, López said: “Horror goes directly into our most intimate, primal emotion, so if you can squeeze your way there, you have the audience’s heart and ear, then you can go into their other fears, the ones they really don’t want to go into, the real ones.”

Reviewing for the Wrap, Monica Castillo said that the movie “quickly immerses its viewers into this fantastic world without over-explaining things or declawing its sense of mystery. … A number of painful realities are woven into this make-believe story, like the increasing number of kids and families affected by the ongoing violence in Mexico and the corruption of government officials by wealthy narcos. This tiger’s got teeth, and it isn’t afraid to bare them to make the audience think.”


Directed by Rhys Ernst and adapted by Ariel Schrag from her own novel, “Adam” is the story of a young man (Nicholas Alexander) who, while visiting his older sister (Margaret Qualley) in New York City in 2006, is mistaken for a trans man by a young woman (Bobbi Salvör Menuez) and does not correct the misperception. Complications, obviously, ensue. A complicated story of community and identity, the movie has generated no small amount of controversy on its way to opening.

In a review for The Times, Carlos Aguilar wrote: “As insensitive as that premise might sound, the resulting film is tenderly provocative and markedly vital,” adding, “Though 2006 might not seem too far removed from our present, in terms of LGBTQ visibility, the distance between then and now is considerable. ‘Adam’ reminds us how much, thankfully, society has slowly changed and yet how far we still are from real change.”

I spoke to Ernst, who is himself trans, when the film premiered earlier this year at the Sundance Film Festival. Preemptively defending the film against some of the criticisms that were to come, he said: “My view is that the movie is optimistic about the potential for change when it comes to outsiders like Adam. I think people who haven’t seen the film might think it’s about Adam doing something to the queer and trans community. But I actually think it’s about the queer and trans community doing something to Adam and is optimistic about the power of cis-straight-het people and their capacity for change and opening their minds. And that’s ultimately this humanist perspective I have and I think is in the film.”

For Vanity Fair, Oliver Whitney wrote: “Given my personal issues with the book, I was initially cautious entering the film, which was also written by Schrag. But ultimately, I was surprised by the number of changes she made for the screen. … The trans characters are more complex onscreen than they were on the page as well.”

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