In this cynical, but compassionate comedy, Jillian Bell gets her steps in.
I was able to acknowledge Jillian Bell as a household name after her comedy role in “22 Jump Street,” in which she portrayed one of the bad guys. She was viciously funny in that role. There may have been a gap when she appeared in some comedy bombs like “The Night Before,” “Office Christmas Party,” “Fist Fight,” and “Rough Night,” but I see a spark in this actress that has more potential and style than Kate McKinnon.
This year alone, she made two artisan films: “Sword of Trust” and “Brittany Runs a Marathon,” which both allowed her to have sincere performances. In the latter’s case, it’s all about cleansing yourself in fitness and health. “Brittany Runs a Marathon” is an often cynical, but funny and good-intended comedy.
Bell is Brittany, an out-of-shape and down-on-her-luck NYC gal, who envies the rich and fabulous lives of other New Yorkers. She’s so unhealthy that, she reluctantly decides to fix her body up through jogging, and even joins a Saturday morning running session, where she makes new friends: her soon-to-be divorced neighbor Catherine (Michaela Watkins) and a negative Nancy homosexual named Seth (Micah Stock). They all agree to run the New York Marathon, and have a year to train.
I did get a bit tired of the cynicism aimed the main heroine, in regard to her U-turns in life; but this ends up proving to me about the film’s pacing. It wants to take some detours, instead of just cutting to the marathon. It want to allow us to get to know the title character and the people she meets along the way.
Jillian Bell delivers her best work in years, as a fat woman, who decides to clean herself up by moving and running. Her sense of humor is silly, but well-intended, as she thrives on her own stressful situations. But at the same time, she’s able to delve into her character’s sadness, and we really feel something for her.
The other characters in the film also consist of her brother-in-law Demetrius (Lil Rel Howery), who, in a way, has been a father figure to her; and her artist love interest Jern (Utkarsh Ambudkar from “The Mindy Project”), who used the Nick/Disney cartoon “Doug” to get through his parents divorce as a kid; and her ex-roommate Gretchen (Alice Lee), who often gloats about being so perfect on Instagram.
These three are written with honesty, and they’re able to connect with Brittany by sharing their own words of wisdom. Ambudkar delivers the goods, and he’s able to develop a chemistry with Bell’s Brittany; and like in “Bird Box,” Howery continues to prove that he doesn’t always need to say: “I told you not to go in the house, man,” and Lee offers some real persona. And both Watkins and Stock provide the support for her without feeling all glamorous or stocky. Every star in this movie is a person.
“Brittany Runs a Marathon” is also the directorial debut of Paul Downs Colaizzo, and he does a fine job acknowledging an overweight person’s goal of fitness. He also writes the characters with diversity and sincerity, and most artisan films are able to balance those notions these days.
This is movie is just about the jogging; it’s about the people inside and outside of it.
Now Playing in Select Cities
Expands Everywhere September 13