Brittany has self-destructive habits, including bad decisions with men and overconsumption of food and booze.
It’s not every doctor that would prescribe running 26 miles to get on the road to recovery. But as its title suggests, “Brittany Runs a Marathon” contains just such a dubious medical recommendation. Maybe don’t try this at home.
The winner of the Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival, “Brittany” balances hipster attitude with a feel-good outline. Writer-director Paul Downs Collaizo was inspired by the real-life experiences of a friend, although the film is fictional.
Dumpy and unhappy when the movie opens, Brittany (Jillian Bell) gradually warms up to the idea of physical activity. She builds a little community of runners with a neighbor (Michaela Watkins, Bell’s funny co-star in “Sword of Trust”) and another first-time marathoner (Micah Stock).
Brittany’s roommate, an online “influencer” (Alice Lee), turns out to be toxic as a friend. Who could have predicted that someone who makes a living as an influencer would turn out to be shallow and petty?
So Brittany moves out and takes a pet-sitting job that turns into another roommate situation, this time with a jolly scam artist played by Utkarsh Ambudkar (a veteran of “The Mindy Project”). There are a lot of bright people in this film, but Ambudkar feels like the breakout, giving an engagingly quippy performance rooted in something real.
After years of TV (“Workaholics”) and various big-screen bits (including a memorably deranged role in “22 Jump Street”), comedian Jillian Bell proves equal to the task of carrying a movie. She’s adept at the sort of glazed super-irony that fuels so much TV comedy, but has the ability to suggest the bruised heart beneath the exterior.
It’s a word-heavy movie. Collaizo, a playwright directing his first feature, doesn’t seem inclined to any kind of visual flair. The setting is New York, because the setting for this kind of thing is always New York, but the movie communicates no special feel for the place.
The result is a generally pleasant entertainment that offers few surprises, although I did like the fact that Brittany has to delay her marathoning for a year. Those sorts of hard, bittersweet touches provide the right amount of grit to cut against the general cheer.
Otherwise, it’s a bunch of sketches draped around a redemption story. But when the sketches hit a groove — like Brittany interviewing for a nanny job and being asked to deliver CPR to a realistic baby doll — this set-up works just fine.
“Brittany Runs a Marathon” (3 stars)
A Sundance award-winner that blends hipster attitude with a feel-good outline. Jillian Bell plays an out-of-shape New Yorker determined to run in a marathon. No big surprises here, but Bell easily carries the film, and the cast is full of bright comedy folks such as Michaela Watkins and Utkarsh Ambudkar.
Rating: R, for language, subject matter
Opening Friday: SIFF Egyptian; wider release slated for Sept. 6.