Sundance always plays host to “Nice Movies”. They’re nothing revelatory, but they’re a fine bit of escapism with a good sense of humor and characters trying to be better people. Paul Downs Colaizzo’s Brittany Runs a Marathon is the best kind of Nice Sundance Movie. It’s got the beats of a rom-com, but with the edge of an indie held together by smart storytelling and great performances, especially from lead actress Jillian Bell. Although the stakes are technically nothing more than a young woman trying to get her life together, Brittany Runs a Marathon is always compelling thanks to its humor and heart.
Brittany (Bell) is not in a good place. Even though she still has her sense of humor, she’s broke and even her friends don’t really respect her. After her doctor tells her that she has serious health problems due to her weight, Brittany resolves to try and run just one city block. And then she runs a bit further. Before she knows it, she friends with fellow runners Catherine (Michaela Watkins) and Seth (Micah Stock) while growing close to fellow housesitter Jerm (Utkarsh Ambudkar). However, while Brittany makes impressive progress on her weight loss, she’s forced to confront the emotional issues that cause her to keep pushing people away.
As someone who is overweight and horribly out of shape, I could definitely relate to Brittany’s story. No one starts out being able to a marathon. You have to keep pushing yourself a little further every time and you have to maintain the discipline to keep going. It means not going out with a friend for ice cream and getting up early to exercise. It sucks, but it gets results. However, if you don’t also address your emotional issues, backsliding is almost inevitable. Colaizzo always handles his story with honesty, never being so heavy-handed that weight loss is treated as a cure-all, but never so light that we don’t respect Brittany’s journey.
Bell carries the movie beautifully. The actress has always been a scene-stealer (I start to crack up every time I think of her fight scene with Jonah Hill in 22 Jump Street), but she really gets to shine in a lead role that not only uses her incredible comic talents, but also shows she can easily tackle the dramatic side of Brittany’s story. We can see how Brittany retreats from close relationships as well as her growth to accepting her new life as a runner. Bell has to sell a performance not just of physical transformation, but also emotional transformation, and she does it perfectly.
There’s nothing wrong with nice movies. Not every film has to upend expectations, and there’s something to be said for films that lift you up if you’re in a lousy mood. I wasn’t in a bad mood when I saw Brittany Runs a Marathon, but I was certainly exhausted from the film festival grind. And yet watching Brittany Runs a Marathon, I was smiling throughout and eager to strap on my running shoes when I get home.
Brittany Runs a Marathon does not currently have a release date.