By Kevin Muller
It is always great to see new talent headline a movie. If you look up Jillian Bell, you will probably say to yourself, “oh yeah, that’s where she is from!” One of her more popular roles was playing the antagonist in 22 Jump Street, providing an uncomfortable, but hilarious, sexual tension with Jonah Hill in that film’s final confrontation. She was also a writer on Saturday Night Live for a few years. The chance to headline her own film is a pretty big step for this actress. Did the hard work pay off?
Brittany Fogler is a 27-year-old woman living in the Big Apple. She lives in a crumby apartment, drinks heavily, lives check to check, is overweight, and just has an air of irresponsibility. Her room mate Gretchen, the definition of a mean girl, is an enabler to the downward spiral that is Brittany’s life. After her doctor gives her news about her health being at risk, she decides to do something about it. She has no money to join a gym, so she decides to take up running and zero in on the goal of completing the world-famous New York City Marathon. On this journey, she be friends a divorcee and a gay man, who wants to prove to his kids that he is as athletic as his better half, Catherine and Seth. Brittany wallows in self-pity, realizing that her two running partners, while seemingly normal and stable, have insecurities and doubts of their own. Through lots of complaining, sweat, and tears, the three run to make their lives better.
The fact that Bell can do the comedy is something that we all knew that she would accomplish, but she is equally as impressive doing all the drama that in connected with Brittany’s life. Writer and director Paul Downs Colaizzo writes Brittany as a real person, not a heroine. There are times where you will love her, but then there are times when you will want to strangle her. This wonderfully written character shows that despite improving your life, your fears and doubts really never disappear. You just have to learn how to live with all your regret, mistakes, and make the future better. All this is portrayed beautifully by Bell. Colaizzo carefully guides the supporting characters of Catherine and Seth not to be a walking caricature of a gay man and a middle aged woman going through a divorce. These two are extremely important in the development of who Brittany becomes in the story. They never leave her in the numerous times where she starts to back slide into her old ways. Micaela Watkins, who did a stint on Saturday Night Live, around the time Bell was writing for the show, and Micah Stock both are great in their supporting roles. These felt like real people instead of just two side kick characters.
Colaizzo also develops a romance for our character in the form of Jern, who does the night house sitting at the place where she works during the day. Utkarash Ambudkar, provides the film with the charming slacker type that usually is dropped into these kind of stories as yang to the lead female’s ying. Bell and Ambudkar, who gives a fine performance, have the cute chemistry you’d expect, but their romance feels tacked on. People always joke about all these small “indies” having a check list of qualities they abide by to appeal to viewers. Unfortunately, this part of the movie feels the most formulaic in its execution. Ambudkar, in certain scenes, seems to be channeling Aziz Asari’s pitch and mannerisms, but he is still charming as hell, so you can overlook it.
With that said, Brittany Runs a Marathon is Bell’s film and she shines in the leading role. Despite parts of it feeling typical, Brittany’s journey is sweet, funny, heartbreaking, and joyous to watch. When she runs that Marathon, you feel her anxiety, fear, and excitement. They say making any film is a journey, or a marathon, and with this film, Bell easily crosses over that finish line.
I am giving Brittany Runs a Marathon a 4 out of 5 Hairpieces!