‘Brittany Runs a Marathon’
Playing in the U.S. Dramatic competition of the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. Running time: 103 minutes. Next screenings: Wednesday, Jan. 30, 11:30 a.m., The MARC Theatre, Park City; Thursday, Jan. 31, 2:30 p.m., The MARC Theatre, Park City; Friday, Feb. 1, 3 p.m., Library Center Theatre, Park City; Saturday, Feb. 2, 3:15 p.m., Grand Theatre, Salt Lake City.
The comedy “Brittany Runs a Marathon” deals with a lot of weighty subjects — about self-worth, body shaming and accepting friendship — but writer-director Paul Downs Colaizzo and star Jillian Bell carry it effortlessly.
Bell, best known for comic turns in “22 Jump Street” and “Rough Night,” plays Brittany, who’s nearing 30 in New York without a lot to show for it. She barely holds down a job as a theater ticket-taker, and she spends too much time partying and making bad choices with her YouTube-obsessed roommate Gretchen (Alice Lee). A trip to a doctor (Patch Darragh) gives her the information she’s been denying: She’s borderline-obese, and needs to lose 55 pounds. “That’s a Siberian husky! That’s a medium-sized working dog you want me to pull out of my butt,” Brittany replies, falling back on using jokes to deflect from her problems.
She sees their rich neighbor Catherine (Michaela Watkins) jogging, so she decides to try it, but the effort to just get around the block is exhausting and soul-crushing. Catherine takes Brittany under her wing, explaining that everyone has problems — Catherine’s involved “needle stuff” — and offers to bring Brittany to her running club. She does, and forms a small team with Catherine and Seth (Micah Stock) who make a pact that they will each complete the New York City Marathon, 11 months away.
As Brittany gets serious about running, she also starts cleaning up other parts of her life. One of those parts is finding a new job as a housesitter, which is how she meets Jern (Utkarsh Ambudkar), a “man boy” who is living in the townhouse in which he’s housesitting.
Colaizzo’s script, inspired by a friend who ran the New York City Marathon, smartly progresses through Brittany’s struggle to lose weight, embrace her inner runner, and toss aside the negative influences in her life. There are setbacks, of course, but Brittany’s growth and her determination are authentic and inspiring.
In a cast full of funny people — including Lil Rea Howery (“Uncle Drew”) as Brittany’s brother-in-law and surrogate stepfather — Bell’s funny and warm-hearted performance reigns. She cracks jokes that most stand-ups would sell their mothers to land, and her blossoming from supporting player to movie star is delightful to see.