Back at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival, one of Amazon Studios’ biggest acquisitions to date was the dramedy Brittany Runs a Marathon. On the surface, it appears like the sort of movie that Sundance generates each year. A mixture of comedy and drama, with a comic actor or actress showing their range/finally being given a chance to shine. However, while all of that is true, the flick is so much more than just that. Not only is Jillian Bell absolutely aces in the film, every moment that could feel cliched here is handled in a fresh an unexpected way. This is one of the most satisfying works of the summer.
The film follows Brittany Forgler (Bell), a 27 year old woman who would charitably be described as a hot mess by those who know her, and even by those who don’t. She’s all about having a good time, but largely seems to just exist, making her friends laugh and partying. Even though she moved to New York for a career, she’s just killing time, with no goals. When she stops by a doctor’s office on a mission to score some Adderall, the physician actually opts to examine her, informing Brittany that she’s actually incredibly unhealthy and needs to fix this ASAP. Initially dismissive, she opts to start jogging, first by running one block. Then, she adds another. Soon, it becomes a passion, one she shares with two new running friends in Catherine (Michaela Watkins) and Seth (Micah Stock), while moving on from a toxic friendship with Gretchen (Alice Lee). Life is looking up for Brittany, especially as she grows closer to Jern (Utkarsh Ambudkar), but all this drive and direction is taking a toll on her. Could it be too much of a good thing? Paul Downs Colaizzo writes and directs, with Seamus Tierney handling the cinematography, and Duncan Thum composing the score. Supporting players include Patch Darragh, Lil Rel Howery, and more.
Jillian Bell shows some tremendous range here. She leans into all of Brittany’s character traits, both the good and the bad. This creates a three dimensional portrait that’s vividly realistic, grounding the movie. Bell invests you in the role, helping to make you care what happens to her. You cheer on her successes, mourn her failures, and are bothered when her bad side comes out. It’s truly an accomplished bit of acting from Bell, showing way more than just the funny side we all knew she had at her disposal. Look for the Golden Globes to potentially cite her with a Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy nomination.
What makes Brittany Runs a Marathon more than just another Sundance dramedy is the deftness with which the mix of heart and laughs are handled. It all really comes to a head during the climax. What should be simply a standard feel good ending actually becomes truly affecting and emotional. You realize how much you’ve invested in Brittany, her quest, and moreover, her actual efforts to better herself. Paul Downs Colaizzo’s writing quietly worms its way into your heart. Bell and Colaizzo do a wonderful job of presenting a real person as their protagonist. There’s no artifice here, even if there’s plenty of silliness. They’re more focused on Brittany’s rough edges, which fills the flick out as a full cinematic meal.
This weekend, audiences are in for a dramedy treat when Brittany Runs a Marathon opens up. If you’ve been a fan of Bell, prepare to see her in a whole new light. Colaizzo’s debut work is one that suggests he’s got a great future as a cinematic storyteller. There’s heart, humor, and pathos here. Give it a look and you’ll see why the raves began in Park City and haven’t stopped all year. This is just a high quality film, all around.
Be sure to check out Brittany Runs a Marathon, in theaters tomorrow!