Brittany Runs A Marathon gives Jillian Bell the big leading role that every actress craves; one that should see her break out from a notable supporting player to a genuine high-wattage star. Although writer/director Paul Downs Colaizzo’s film deals with serious issues including depression, self-image, obesity and substance abuse, it’s also a sunny, satisfying crowd-pleaser that gets a huge lift from Bell’s winning performance.
The title says it all; Brittany Forglar is a 28 year old woman living in NYC who decides to run in the New York Marathon. A doctor, ‘cheap and good’ so Brittany has heard, is enlisted in the hope of scoring some Adderall, but instead informs Brittany that she’s technically obese. Initially suspicious of his diagnosis, Brittany is befriended by a neighbour Catherine (In A World’s excellent Micheala Watkins) who encourages her to run off the extraneous body-fat, but there are other lifestyle choices required. Brittany’s sense of herself is entwined with her party-animal life-choices, and giving up drink, drugs, sexual-abasement and other vices won’t happen easily. Meanwhile a search for employment takes Brittany far from advertising, and into the orbit of a maverick house-sitter called Jern (Utkarsh Ambudkar) who shakes up Brittany’s ideas even further…
‘This was never about running a marathon’ one of the other characters notes, and Colaizzo’s film is much more than just a be-all-you-can-be sports movie. Forglar is introduced improvising a storm of one-liners while working in the foyer of a theatre; Bell shows that she can not just hold the spotlight, but bend it to her will. Bell makes Brittany Forglar a memorable character, someone who has potential, but bends and buckles into bitterness when that potential isn’t realised; there’s a vicious scene late on when she lashes out at another woman that’s raw and uncomfortable.
Without getting into spoiler territory, it’s no surprise when Brittany breaks down while running the marathon; what is surprising is how intensely involving it is to see her bent double by the side of the road, while a race marshal calmly attempts to ascertain her state-of wellbeing. This is a story about judgement; about fearing and evading judgement, and about how we judge and label ourselves. It’s a message that doesn’t quite make it into the credits; a character is described as ‘overweight woman’ where ‘woman running for subway’ would be a little less judge-y.
Brittany Runs a Marathon’s sudden appearance on Amazon Prime offers an alternative route to success; the Netflix bug for using cinema only as a showcase has clearly had an influence on the streaming channel. That may slow down the recognition factor here; Jillian Bell gives the kind of big-hearted performance that could well have made her an awards contender, and she’ll probably have to settle for great word-of mouth; either way, she and her movie are outright winners, and not just making up the numbers.
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