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At the movies in 2019, we’ve seen both blockbusters and biopics alike go big and bold with their subject matter. That in mind, releasing a movie like Brittany Runs A Marathon at the end of August could, on the surface, seem like an easy way to burn a film that might not feel like a competitor. That assumption is as wrong as they come, as writer/director Paul Downs Colaizzo creates one of the most emotionally compelling stories we’ve seen in 2019 so far; and he does so out of genuine love for a dear friend.
The plot, as far as cinematic exercises are concerned, is one of comparatively low stakes. Based on the true life experiences of Colaizzo’s former roommate, Brittany O’Neil, Brittany Runs A Marathon is focused on her fictional surrogate, Brittany Forgler (Jillian Bell). A combative woman who has traded responsibility for being the life of the party, Brittany becomes fixated with straightening out her life after a less-than-stellar visit to the doctor, and specifically running in the New York Marathon.
Along the way, our subject makes new friends (Micah Stock & Michaela Watkins), reconsiders her source of platonic support (Alice Lee), and even starts to fall for the last person she’d ever expect (Utkarsh Ambudkar). But the further she progresses, the more she realizes just how much dedication this new structured lifestyle requires, with an ever looming threat of relapse on the horizon.
What’s most interesting about Brittany Runs A Marathon is that it knows how to balance the humor and the gravity of Brittany’s real quest to better herself in the name of personal growth. It puts the movie at the crossroads between its comedic and dramatic components, while effectively traveling a good distance down both. And it all hinges perfectly on the lead performance by Jillian Bell.
At times hysterical and absolutely devastating as the cinematic version of Brittany, Bell will blow you away with her take on the film's central protagonist. After honing her comedic craft in shows like Workaholics and films like Rough Night, she now has more than enough expertise to really sell the jokes that Brittany Runs A Marathon builds into its story. However, the welcome surprise is when the actress breaks out the dramatic chops that make this a landmark performance in her career. It’s because of her commitment to Colaizzo’s subtle and constant shifts between the laughs and tears that the big picture on display works as well as it does.
The supporting cast of Brittany Runs A Marathon only enhances Jillian Bell’s talents, as there’s a spectacular blend of people that feed into her portrayal with their own exciting quirks. But no matter what happens, this movie never forgets how equally important both halves of the emotional gamut truly are. This ebb and flow helps keep the film unpredictably paced in a successful effort to avoid being a typical indie dramedy based on real life.
It’s been a pretty rewarding year when it comes to stories that bank heavily on the human condition, and Brittany Runs A Marathon stands out as a member of that crowd all due to its protagonist and her goals, representing some of the most identifiable challenges we’ve seen on screen this year. Brittany Forgler wants to run a marathon, and while it’s not the most complicated aspiration, but it’s one that requires a lot of attention and perseverance; qualities this project also remembers to use to its benefit.
Make no mistake, you’ll cry while watching it all unfold, but those tears are truly inspired, rather than manipulated. Brittany Runs A Marathon is a soaring tribute to the friends that inspire us, the ones we want to support in their hours of need, and what we have the power to do as individuals when we make the effort. It is an absolutely gorgeous display of humanity and inspirational for anyone dreaming to go the distance with those they love by their side.