In a previous life, specifically high school, I was a cross country runner and continue to enjoy running in my everyday life. Sadly, there are very few movies that really go into the subject of running because it is barely a cinematic subject. But still, I had hope that Brittany Runs a Marathon would be another indie sleeper to impress me this summer so I went in with mild expectations hoping for a good experience.
Ultimately, I ended up getting just about what I came in for. Brittany Runs a Marathon does not rewrite the indie comedy playbook. I wouldn’t even say it is as good as similar Sundance hits like The Big Sick or Eight Grade, but there are certainly many elements to it that I believe work very well and make it an overall satisfying story.
We start the movie off with our titular lead played by Jillian Bell, more on her later. She is an unhealthy, broke New Yorker who is on the cusp of 30 and realizing her life is not going anywhere. She visits the doctors with hopes of getting Adderall and instead is told her health is at risk and she must lose weight. How will she do this? By running, of course. We then follow her journey from building the courage to run a block to her goal of finishing the New York City Marathon.
First thing that needs to be praised here is Jillian Bell, the clear stand out of this film. Her character is quirky which begins to feel a bit excessive until you realize that the excessive goofiness is a form of protection. Brittany does not want to open up about her true feelings. This is conveyed with shocking nuance by Bell, who certainly has you on her side during her lowest moments at the beginning of the movie. Her arch is also written in a way that is not clean either. There are more than a few bumps along the road and it makes you sympathize for Brittany. Despite the movie only being a little over 100 minutes, you do feel that Brittany grows immensely in that time. I also found it impressive that Bell was able to lose 40 pounds during the filming process in order to get in shape for where her character is at the end. I am rooting for a Golden Globe nomination for her, it would be more than justified.
That being said, I did find her character hard to fully get behind at times. While it is understood she is supposed to be guarded and that is some justification as to why she is unlikable, I feel the movie could have done more to make her redeemable at many moments. There is a particular moment in the second half of the movie that I felt was a totally inappropriate decision for her character to have made and was honestly irredeemable. This moment is only barely made up for but it still leaves you with a feeling that Brittany is not a good person which is a shame because without this scene I would have felt totally different.
Besides this, I do think writer/director Paul Downs Colaizzo’s script helps to achieve Brittany’s arch in a safe but satisfying way. He puts a lot of care into Brittany as a person and if nothing else you leave this movie caring about her. There are also a few moments that deliver laughs but this is definitely more of a dramedy than the advertising would have you believe. As a director, I do not think this movie is anything special, this is clearly a first time director and Colaizzo keeps the camerawork very safe for his script.
While Bell is the clear star, the supporting cast also does a great job in their limited screen time. Bell’s two running friends Molly (Michaela Watkins) and Seth (Micah Stock) are both classic examples of great supporting side characters and I do appreciate that the script gives them room to evolve alongside Brittany outside of just being consistent beside her. I also found Lil Rey Howery to do well with his surprisingly toned down performance. I feel that he was so quickly typecast as the comedic relief and it was nice to see him play a real person. He actually has a moment towards the end of the movie that did get a lot of emotion out of me and helped guide the movie down a very sentimental path.
In a way, I think it makes sense that Amazon bought this because I think it is the kind of movie to do very well once it hits streaming services. It is a crowd-pleaser and ends on a very high note. It also highlighted some of the emotional highs of running which I will always support seeing on film. I am hoping this movie gets seen, at least so people can see Jillian Bell’s performance and realize she is definitely an actress we need to be looking out for.