Runtime: 104 Minutes
Director: Paul Downs Colaizzo
Writer: Paul Downs Colaizzo
Stars: Jillian Bell, Alice Lee, Micah Stock, Michaela Watkins, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Kate Arrington, Lil Rel Howery
By Joan Amenn
Self-care can be difficult, no matter what your age or gender. If you live in New York City and are in your late twenties to early thirties, you may have a few more handicaps to being healthy than the average person. If you’re a single woman in addition to all of the above, and overweight, you apparently have the makings of an Amazon original comedy. There is nothing funny in how women are subject to body shaming or how weight disorders are sometimes linked to psychological trauma. However, Jillian Bell as the title character of “Brittany Runs a Marathon” (2019) does her best to make her story of turning around an unhealthy lifestyle into a poignant and often hilarious triumph.
Brittany is a socially awkward young woman who hides a fierce intelligence and even sharper personal pain behind quick repartee and a tendency to overindulge. Playwright Paul Downs Colaizzo debuts as a film director here and the wisest thing he does is let Bell’s comedic timing shine. Colaizzo also wrote the script and there are some truly hilarious moments, such as when Brittany spontaneously riffs on the movie, “Babe” (1995).
“This film is at its best when we see Brittany focused on her goal of running the marathon, as she says, not to win it but just to finish it. Bell is excellent at showing the inner struggles Brittany goes through when temptation in the form of food is everywhere.”
Unfortunately, not all of the supporting characters are as strongly developed as Brittany. Alice Lee is Brittany’s roommate, a stereotypical narcissistic millennial who never breaks out from mouthing clichés, even when she and Brittany have an inevitable face-off. Micah Stock is a delight as Brittany’s running buddy Seth as is Michaela Watkins as Catherine, the third musketeer of her group who aim to run the New York City Marathon. She is a moving combination of strength and vulnerability and perfectly balances Brittany’s humor and occasional combativeness.
Less convincing is Utkarsh Ambudkar as Jern, Brittany’s eventual love interest. Brittany refers to Jern’s immaturity many times throughout the film as a stumbling block for them to being anything but friends and yet she and Jern suddenly end up as a couple. Kate Arrington and Lil Rel Howery as Brittany’s sister and brother-in-law have real chemistry which she and Jern lack. Howery is warm and genuine as a mentor to Brittany, pulling her back from the brink when she is at her lowest. But Brittany is at her most charming and most funny when she is alone and facing her demons head on. And face them she does, one city block at a time. And she does eventually run, although at first she can only manage a brisk walk.
This film is at its best when we see Brittany focused on her goal of running the marathon, as she says, not to win it but just to finish it. Bell is excellent at showing the inner struggles Brittany goes through when temptation in the form of food is everywhere. This is New York, after all. “Brittany Runs a Marathon” feels more like a television pilot than a stand-alone film in that it introduces a likable cast and an endearing leading lady but wraps up rather abruptly. It would be fun to see Brittany and her new friends continue to run, maybe next time in the Boston Marathon.