Published Aug 19, 2019As last year's terrible I Feel Pretty proved, an inspirational comedy about self-image can be a dicey prospect: too earnest and it's saccharine, too goofy and it risks being insensitive.
Brittany Runs a Marathon walks the tightrope perfectly by balancing hilarious punchlines with dark, emotional grit. Titular character Brittany (Jillian Bell) is the life of the party, but after she visits a doctor in an attempt to score Adderall, she's scared straight with warnings about her unhealthy lifestyle.
Brittany resolves to turn her life around within the first few minutes of the movie, but she's still got plenty more growing to do. Brittany Runs a Marathon isn't about physical fitness as much as it is about gaining control of your own life. Brittany has a quick wit, but her fondness for affecting a cringey British accent reveals a deep-seated fear of intimacy. Her roommate/bestie Gretchen (Alice Lee) is an enabler who doesn't support her attempts at self-betterment, and she resents her friendly neighbour Catherine (Michaela Watkins) for being successful.
Jillian Bell wonderfully conveys the full spectrum of Brittany's emotional journey. Bell has already showed her comedy talents with memorable roles in Workaholics and 22 Jump Street, and here she proves herself equally adept at drama. Bell is helped out by some excellent supporting performances: Utkarsh Ambudkar is simultaneously abrasive and loveable as the love interest Jern, and Lil Rel Howery is halfway between a friend and a father figure as the brother-in-law Demetrius.
As Brittany Runs a Marathon nears the finish line, director Paul Downs Colaizzo begins to lay on the cheese: there are music montages and blatantly tear-jerking moments where Brittany digs deep to achieve her dreams. But after so many laughs and genuinely touching epiphanies, the sentimentality feels well-earned.