Brittany Runs a Marathon wasn’t made by Judd Apatow, but it has a lot of the same look and feel: Its titular heroine lives somewhere between always being drunk and always being hungover. She scarfs down junk food and scoffs at any loser who dares to do any kind of actual adulting. Like her spiritual counterparts in Knocked Up and The 40-Year-Old, Brittany Forgler (Jillian Bell) begins this story blissfully unaware that her life has settled on the barrel’s bottom.
When we first see Brittany, everything about her feels paradoxical. She pounds mixed drinks and Adderalls like the life of the party, but her loneliness can fill a crowded room. She’s ambitious, but lazy. Her perky humor masks a hostile, bitter person buried underneath. Gretchen (Alice Lee), the shallow, bitchy influencer who passes for Brittany’s BFF, treats her as though she is worthless and indispensable, all at once. Meanwhile, the beautiful, ultra-athletic divorcée (Michaela Watkins) in the apartment upstairs seems friendly and supportive, but Brittany greets her with seething contempt.
Brittany’s world sinks like a lead balloon when she visits a new doctor. She’s obese, and her blood pressure has climbed to dangerous highs. Her liver is in bad shape, too. The boom gets lowered: Unless Brittany gets her ass in gear, her life will end in a rapid spiral. She reluctantly resolves to shape up. Brittany meekly dons spandex and sneakers, before tiptoeing out for a jog around the block. She builds her run a few baby steps at a time, and it isn’t long before the pounds melt off.
As Brittany shrinks, her social circle widens. Jern (Utkarsh Ambudkar) occupies the same cushy house where Brittany dog-sits. His personality features equal doses of sarcasm and apathy. This appeals to Brittany, but she’s also frightened of any relationship that might be real. Seth (Micah Stock) feels like a much safer presence in her life: He’s gay, married, and gently supportive of her.
As the title implies, Brittany eventually decides to push all her chips out and run the New York City Marathon. Of course, this means she’ll have to take her body to the brink of its capabilities. She’ll also have to fend off the temptation to backslide into her easy life of fast food and cheap booze.
As Brittany, Bell hits a bulls-eye. She’s a surprisingly difficult character, alternately lovable and witheringly mean. Bell’s performance is so genuine and funny that we root for her, even in her darkest scenes. Watkins gives the film some emotional depth as a woman whose seemingly charmed life hides a dark secret. Ambudkar plays such a great couch potato, even we want to him to better himself. Finally, Stock excels as Brittany’s truest friend.
Movies like Brittany Runs a Marathon walk a perilous tightrope: They have to be funny without feeling vacuous. They have to inspire without sounding preachy. Brittany never falls into either pit. It’s flyweight comedy, done right. If you’re looking for a sharp, entertaining little film, Brittany Runs a Marathon is a remarkably good choice.
104 min. R.
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