This year I discovered that I really like listening to podcasts on long drives, and we drive a lot. One that I’ve particularly enjoyed is Fortune Feimster’s Sincerely Fortune, which she does with her fiancee Jax, and sometimes her mother, Ginger. Although I love Fortune’s standup, the podcast is consciously a more sincere and authentic discussion. Occasionally she has friends on, and one day, she had her good friend and former improv classmate Jillian Bell on the show. You may not know her name, but you would almost certainly recognize her. I had a heck of a time proving to Sean that he knew her, what with roles like “clingy friend” in Rough Night and “pregnant wife” in The Night Before being not super memorable or easy to point to. But this film is Bell’s first chance at a starring role and boy did she ride it for all it’s worth. Fortune was expansive with praise, clearly proud of her friend, and not only did I find it a moving testament to female friendship, it made me incredibly interested in the movie.
I’m happy to say I was not disappointed.
Ostensibly, Brittany Runs A Marathon is about a woman, perhaps an unlikely runner, who trains for the NYC Marathon. Her life is kind of a mess and her health could use improvement, so she takes up training as a means to exert a little more control on a life she sees as perhaps moving on without her, perhaps unsalvageable.
While we are experiencing Brittany’s transformation in miles traversed and pounds lost, this movie isn’t really about the running, and certainly not about the weight loss. It’s really about learning to grow, to being open to it. It’s about reawakening old dreams and letting go of old, toxic relationships. Brittany doesn’t become a better person when she becomes a thinner person. In fact, she might be at her most nasty. What saves her is showing herself what she can do – that her stagnant life can be nourished, that the dead ends are in fact just cul-de-sacs.
Jillian Bell in the lead role lives up to every aspect of her character. She undertook the same transformation as her character, Brittany, and you can tell how closely she relates to the material in the film. The supporting cast, including Micah Stock, Lil Rel Howery, Michaela Watkins, and Utkarsh Ambudkar, is extremely strong. There’s a lot of great chemistry and everyone has the benefit of a good, solid script from writer-director Paul Downs Colaizzo.
Because Jillian Bell is slightly wider than a No. 2 pencil, she’s often relegated to playing the out-of-control pal who’s very physical and quite obnoxious. In Brittany Runs A Marathon, she gets to go beyond just her fearless talent for physical comedy and flex the rest of her acting muscles as well. It’s terrific to see her in a role that’s worthy of her and I hope this means there are many more to come. It turns out that Brittany really didn’t need to transform her body. It was her head that needed the makeover – new confidence, more agency, bigger ambitions. Her salvation wasn’t found on a bathroom scale, it was in accomplishing her goals and widening her circle of support. Her trajectory isn’t straight. Her ups and downs sometimes push us away, make her hard to root for. But she’s an exceptionally real character who feels authentic and relatable and she’s exactly the kind of woman we need to celebrate.