In Brief: Best sleeper movie of the year and one that is not to be missed.
Brittany Runs a Marathon won the Audience Award and a Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival. Awards at film festivals are a hit or miss recommendation for moviegoers. Sometimes audiences at festivals see things much differently than those seeing a movie at an ordinary theater.
One only needs to go back a few years to France’s Cannes Film Festival and to a film titled Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives. It picked up Palme d’Or. Uncle Boonmee is practically incoherent and is one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen. It’s laughably bad.
So just because a movie wins big awards at film festivals doesn’t necessarily mean it is all that good.
Relax. In the case of Brittany Runs a Marathon, the Sundance awards make sense. The awards are a good recommendation. Right now the release is limited so it’s not available in all areas. However, keep your eyes open. If it ever goes wider release — and I hope it does — you’ll want to see this one.
Jillian Bell stars as Brittany. She’s overweight, has awful eating habits, is unhealthy and hides her insecurities behind a wickedly funny and well-developed sense of humor. Tired of being fat and taken for granted, Brittany is shamed by her upstairs neighbor into joining a running club.
At first she hates it but soon manages to tolerate the pain of running, make a new good friend and come up with a measure of tolerance for the pushy runner living upstairs. Eventually, the goal is for all three of them to run the New York Marathon.
Brittany also ends up in a very weird relationship with a guy who is squatting in a house of a couple whose dog she’s supposed to be caring for while they’re traveling.
On the surface this one looks totally shallow. In your mind, you already know it’s headed to sappy and very predictable feel-good-movie territory. Yes, it does. That’s the nature of the beast. At the same time, writer/director Paul Downs Colaizzo gives his film, his main character and her friends multiple dimensions and gives them real lives, real personalities and the kind of struggles a lot of us go through.
Brittany Runs a Marathon also has a very, very good cast, all of whom gives exceptional performances. However, it is Bell (The Night Before, Office Christmas Party, Goosebumps, 22 Jump Street) and her portrayal of the sometimes pathetic Brittany that makes this one a must see.
She bounds through the movie with unbridled enthusiasm and good cheer. Brittany is just fine with friends and even those she’s close to as long as the friendship stays on the surface. Dig a little deeper, want a little more and the walls come up and Brittany lashes out and lashes out hard.
As Brittany discovers a deeper self it is uncomfortable. She’s used her weight and that over-developed sense of humor as a shield. Praise is foreign and anything personally positive is frightening. It gives her character an edge and the movie the needed edge that keeps it from being an ordinary feel-good-flick.
Bell pulls it off perfectly and gives one of the year’s best performances. It’s easy to get attached to her early in the movie. As you get to know Brittany, you like her more and more. And like Utkarsh Ambudkar’s Jern, by the end of the movie you not only like her, but you’ll fall deeply in love with Brittany.
Acting doesn’t get any better than that.
Part of the credit for her performance goes to the exceptional writing of Colaizzo. He’s a playwright whose hit play Really Really got critical acclaim and he’s now moved into television production and movie making. His screenplay was inspired by a good friend who changed her life through running.
Her name is Brittany.
Colaizzo has a bright future. In fact, if enough people see Brittany Runs a Marathon, I predict Bell, this movie and Colaizzo could end up with the year’s best sleeper movie. Right now it’s a really terrific art house film. As the praise builds, more people will hopefully notice and it’ll get a wider release. When it does, I predict the movie ends up nominated for all kinds of major awards and Bell getting all kinds of best actress nominations as well.
She is as perfect as perfect gets and this movie isn’t far behind.
Director: Paul Downs Colaizzo
Stars: Jillian Bell, Michaela Watkins, Micah Stock, Alice Lee, Lil Ray Howery, Kate Arrington, Jennifer Dundas, Patch Darragh
Rated R for mature themes and language. This is a practically perfect movie and is as sweet as you expect. At the same time, it takes enough surprising terms to avoid being totally predictable. Definitely this year’s best sleeper movie. Give Brittany a lot of credit for running into a 5 on the Friday Flicks with Gary o to 5 scale.
Click here for theaters and show times.
Gary Wolcott has been reviewing movies on radio, television and newspaper since 1990. He believes — and this is an estimate only — that he’s seen something close to 10,000 movies in his lifetime. Gary is a lifelong fan of films and catches a couple of hundred movies a year. He believes movies ought to be seen on the big screen and not on the small screen in your living room or family room. While he loves movies, he also says reviewing film can be a real sacrifice and that he sees many movies so you don’t have to.
He is one of KXL 101.1 FM’s film critics and joined the news staff in 2014. Gary is also the film critic for Tri-Cities, Washington’s Tri-City Herald.