Synopsis: A woman living in New York takes control of her life- one block at a time.
Stars: Jillian Bell, Michaela Watkins, Lil Rel Howery, Micah Stock, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Sarah Bolt, Jennifer Dundas, Patch Darragh, Alice Lee, Dan Bittner, Mikey Day
Director: Paul Downs Colaizzo
Running Length: 103 minutes
TMMM Score: (8/10)
Review: If you take a step back and look at the films released this summer and don’t consider the box office returns, it’s been a good year for female-led movies. Finding their way to theaters (but, sadly, not always wide audiences) were Booksmart, Late Night, The Farewell, and maybe, if you’re feeling generous, even The Hustle. All had strong points of view and boldly entered the arena, often in direct competition to highly anticipated and better advertised franchise blockbusters. Aside from The Farewell, which continues to build on positive word of mouth, these movies suggested changing tides of appetite only to find themselves in discounted theaters within weeks of their release dates. Destined to find their audiences when they hit streaming services, it doesn’t diminish the sting of feeling these should have done better.
The latest movie likely to fall under the same scrutiny is Brittany Runs a Marathon and it might just stand the best shot of breaking the cycle of summer underperformers. Directed by Off-Broadway playwright Paul Downs Colaizzo making his feature film debut and inspired by the life of his best friend, this is a charming comedy that finds a nice balance between humor and drama. I found a lot to laugh at within the movie but an equal amount of the time I was struck by how insightful it was into the inward struggle we all face when standing in front of uncertainty and self-doubt.
Approaching 30 and yet to shed the carefree lifestyle that worked for her in her early 20s, Brittany Forgler (Jillian Bell, Office Christmas Party) works as a part time usher at a small NYC theater and doesn’t do much else. Her roommate Gretchen (Alice Lee, Wish Upon) is dating a handsome Wall Street-type and enjoys partying and late nights just as much as Brittany does. Visting her doctor in hopes of snagging a prescription for Adderall, she instead leaves with a recommendation to lose forty to fifty pounds to avoid ongoing health concerns. Having an “a-ha” moment, Brittany takes stock of her situation, where she is, and where she wants to be. Unable to afford a gym, she begins to run outdoors, eventually joining a running group on the suggestion of Catherine, (Michaela Watkins, Wanderlust) a woman in her building. Teaming up with Catherine and another newbie runner Seth, (Micah Stock), the trio set their sights on training for the NYC Marathon, each with their own personal reasons for wanting to cross the finish line.
To earn extra money, Brittany becomes a daytime house/dog sitter, eventually meeting Jern (Utkarsh Ambudkar, Pitch Perfect) who takes over for her at night. While the two squabble like brother and sister at first, it isn’t hard to see where the good-natured fighting will lead…though it does take an intelligent route getting there. As Brittany continues to train and sees her body changing, she overlooks that it was never about an outward change that needed to happen but an adjustment from within that was necessary. Unable to be vulnerable even with her closest friends or accept their support in the simplest of matters, Brittany may lose everything she’s worked for if she can’t knock down the walls she’s put up to defend herself.
On the surface, Brittany Runs a Marathon might look like your standard offering of girl makes a change to better herself and the wacky ways she does it but Colaizzo isn’t interested in doing anything the old-fashioned way. Yes, the movie is packed with humor both smart and smart-alecky but there’s never a time when the script is out to make fun of its title character. It doesn’t spare her, though, from being held to the same human decency standard as everyone else. Just as we wince when low blows are leveled at Brittany, when she does the same to another person late in the film, we hold her accountable as well. Kudos to actress Sarah Bolt for her small role being on the receiving end of a particularly nasty putdown from Brittany and for the way she responds — it’s easily a top highlight of the movie.
I’m used to Bell’s more raunchy and ribald performances, often broad and playing to the back wall of the theater next door to the one you’re in. So, it’s refreshing to see her, not so much restrained, but offering up a different side that’s just as entertaining. She’s in every scene so if we didn’t like the character or the actress the movie would be in big trouble, but Bell clearly was the right person for this job. The performance is strong and arguably one of the best of the year. I also liked Ambudkar as her comic and romantic counterpart. There’s a chemistry in both areas and that goes a long way in keeping the less funny moments afloat. Watkins and Stock do serviceable supporting work, though some late breaking efforts to bring their personal lives into the mix feels like Colaizzo biting off more than he can chew in 103 minutes. I’d rather have learned more about Brittany’s backstory, the only information we get are in snippets from her brother-in-law (Lil Rel Howery, Tag) and even those are sometimes hard to track.
I think it’s important to look at the movie not for what it’s putting Brittany through but what the ultimate goal is. The point of the movie isn’t for us to watch her lose weight. It isn’t about her running the marathon. It’s a way to show there is value in everyone no matter what they are capable of or hope to achieve. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness and offering help is not a sign you don’t believe in someone’s ability. That Colaizzo is able to weave that message in among a hearty supply of appealing situational comedy and lively performances is a real gift.