Even though Jillian Bell has been on the radar for five years with funny roles in “22 Jump Street,” “Office Christmas Party,” and recently, “Sword of Trust,” the former SNL writer delivers a breakthrough performance as a 20-something party girl who decides to clean up her life and train for the New York City Marathon.
The comedy from playwright Paul Downs Colaizzo is blended with brutal honesty as Bell jumps to leading lady status by exhibiting her dramatic side while giving the audience a character to root for even when she’s at her worst.
Brittany Forgler (Bell) is taking life one day at a time. Her hopes of moving to the big city to write commercial jingles have all but vanished as the 28-year-old Philly native spends her days sleeping until the crack of noon, working part-time as an usher at a small off-Broadway theater and filling her nights with booze, pills and meaningless sex. Her self-infatuated roommate Gretchen (Alice Lee) is the enabler that keeps Brittany stranded in a toxic loop.
When Brittany runs out of leisure meds, she looks up a doctor on Yelp and makes an appointment under the pretense that she’s having a hard time focusing. Her goal is to score Adderall but Doctor Falloway (Patch Darragh) gives her a dose of harsh reality instead, informing Brittany that she needs to lose around 55 pounds to get healthy, or as Brittany puts it, “the weight of a Siberian husky.”
Feeling depressed with the diagnosis, Brittany makes matters even worse by jumping on Facebook where everyone seems to lead extraordinary lives.
Gretchen is no help; the wannabe social media influencer’s solution is, of course, more partying. The only real friend in Brittany’s life is Demetrius (Lil Rel Howery) the brother-in-law who raised her back in Philly. The two Skype frequently to keep up with each other’s lives. Demetrius is always there to offer support.
Bell recently appeared in the funny “Sword of Trust,” which is similar to “Marathon” in that both are comedies with a small but first-rate cast.
The wonderful Michaela Watkins who played Bell’s partner in “Sword” is reunited with the actress to play her perceived antagonist Catherine, a tenant in her apartment building that she refers to as Moneybags Martha because of her seemingly perfect lifestyle that includes running.
Catherine proves to be Brittany’s inspiration as she slowly begins to start running. The two become friends, and along the way, Brittany meets Seth (Micah Stock), an out of shape gay dad who wants to get fit to keep up with his young son. The three start running together, and Brittany decides that she’s going to train for the New York City Marathon.
Bell undergoes a dramatic transformation both on and off-screen as the actress lost 40 pounds for the role. And while you may expect “Brittany Runs a Marathon” to head down the familiar fairytale storyline it does not. Sure, Brittany loses weight and abandons all the negativity in her life, but while she was transforming her body, there wasn’t a similar metamorphosis happening on the inside.
Written and directed by playwright Paul Downs Colaizzo, the film remains grounded in reality, leading to some very ugly moments, including a hard-to-watch scene as a thinner and drunk Brittany lets loose on an unsuspecting couple (she’s overweight and he’s thin) at a dinner party hosted at her brother-in-law’s home. She’s not making fun of the married couple, but she questions how the two can be happy together with such a disparity between their weight. The grueling scene and other honest moments in the film, including Catherine’s less-than-perfect-life, propel Colaizzo’s film past the average dramedy.
With a change in lifestyle, Brittany finds romance when she’s least expecting it in the form of Jern (Utkarsh Ambudkar) an arrogant know-it-all who shares dog house-sitting duties with Brittany when she takes on a new job. Even here, the film doesn’t go down the expected path as the friendship between the two coworkers is a bit bumpy – often with hilarious results.
“Brittany Runs a Marathon” is funny, savage and inspirational. Bell is fantastic in the career-changing role that will have you smiling as you exit the theater.