Thank goodness for Workaholics alum Jillian Bell, as funny an actor as is out there today and the person who, at least in her new film Brittany Runs a Marathon, seems to be taking over the Amy Schumer–ish body positivity mantle, only with results that feel like they actually matter and a more nuanced performance than Schumer could muster on her best day.
Bell is Brittany, a schlubby late-20s New York City transplant from Philly who spends her nights drinking too much and/or canoodling in nightclub bathrooms and her days late to work and/or placating her thin and vapid roommate Gretchen (Alice Lee). All that changes, however, when a trip to the doctor in search of Adderall finds Brittany confronted with her unhealthy life choices. A subsequent chance encounter with a neighbor who seemingly has her life together (Michaela Watkins, with whom Bell shared the screen in the recent Sword of Trust and with whom Bell shares an utterly natural chemistry) helps, too, and before we know it, Brittany decides that she's going to run the New York City Marathon.
Here comes the montage of workout challenges and nay-saying toxic relationships, and as the pounds start melting off, replaced by confidence but not ridding our hero of her neuroses, a subtle morality play unfolds, asking us to assess why we do the things we do, why we believe the things we believe and whether or not our bodies should define us.
Of course they shouldn't, and whereas in other, similar films we might not have strayed too far from chubby girl gets thin and learns a thing or two about life, Brittany Runs a Marathon sneakily shifts from the weight loss shtick to encompass a more complete idea of self-improvement. Throw in a
will-they/won't-they thing with a sort-of coworker named Jern (Utkarsh Ambudkar, Pitch Perfect), y'know, to humanize Brittany and sweeten the deal. It might have felt hackneyed, but Bell and Ambudkar are straight up adorable together, so it works.
Director Paul Downs Colaizzo, who penned the script based loosely on a real life friend, deserves kudos for tackling the matter with sensitivity and graceful humor, though Bell's role as executive producer might have lent a hand. She owns the role of Brittany, too, portraying a flawed and damaged and dimensional person, temper tantrums and all, but one for whom it's easy to root and who winds up inspiring in a way that doesn't feel like movie absurdity. Don't expect to laugh out loud, but do expect some self examination once you leave the theater.
+Bell is amazing; sweet and disarming
-Some scenes of conflict feel shoehorned
Brittany Runs a Marathon
Directed by Colaizzo
With Bell, Watkins and Ambudkar
Violet Crown, R, 104 min.