“Brittany Runs a Marathon” is one of the more unexpected delights this year. This is a very funny comedy that also asks viewers to think, feel, and reflect. As the title character, Jillian Bell is ready to take her place as one of the funniest ladies working today.
As the title makes clear, this is the story of Brittany, a 20-something who spends her nights partying hard and her days sleeping past noon before going to work at a low-paying, low-skill job. Brittany is a version of the slacker/stoner we normally see in movies about dudes who change when they find love. For Brittany, though, the change begins when she goes to the doctor seeking Adderall and leaves with a laundry list of emerging health issues.
In the opening scenes, Bell fully displays her particular brand of biting humor. Brittany does unflattering impressions of people. She judges the “perfect” neighbor whose name she doesn’t know, dubbing her Martha and complaining every time she watches the woman leave the house to go for a run. Brittany hooks up with random guys in bars. She frequently comments on her roommate’s Instagram Celebrity status. All of it is to mask the intense loneliness she feels, and her full awareness that she is not living up to anything close to her potential. These scenes are funny, but with an underlying sense of melancholy and sadness.
Soon after, Brittany decides on the way to get healthy by jogging. One of the most realistic moments happens when she dons two sports bras to keep “the girls” in check. She wears baggy sweats. And can barely make it one block on her first attempt. She bumps into Martha, whose real name is Catherine (Michaela Watkins). Catherine invites Brittany to join a running group where she finds herself immediately at the back of the pack. These early, slow, uncomfortable beginnings are relatable to anyone who has attempted to adopt an active lifestyle. It is in these moments Bell’s humor feels raw, and charged with something more than sarcasm. And its here when Jillian Bell truly begins to feel like a leading lady.
And while this is entirely her story, the supporting cast is perfectly selected. Watkins has this way about her. She is great at the nurturing, motherly type who longs for connection. Alice Lee plays her Instagram Celebrity roommate whose curated life is something that frequently causes self-doubt in Brittany. Lil Rel Howery is another bright spot in a movie full of great characters and perfect moments. Howery trades in his hilarious, quick wit to take on the role of Demetrius, Brittany’s brother-in-law who has become something more of a father figure to her. The other standout is Utkarsh Ambudkar as Jern, the male stoner/slacker Brittany reluctantly befriends. Much like Brittany, it is easy to dismiss him because of his lifestyle. But he has layers that slowly begin to show themselves and Ambudkar feels like a natural fit for the role.
With “Brittany Runs a Marathon,” Paul Downs Colaizzo makes his feature debut as director and writer. This is a truly spectacular first film from Colaizzo whose only previous writing credits are a few TV projects. He has a strong sense of character and story development, and understands how and when to use humor. The plot unfolds in ways that feel natural, rarely forced or too convenient. If this is our first glimpse at Colaizzo as a director, it will be exciting to see what he comes up with next.
“Brittany Runs a Marathon” is funny without being over the top. It is endearing without being overly sentimental. The emotions are genuine and earned, and Jillian Bell is the healthy heart of this film.
This film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and played this weekend at Nantucket Film Festival.