Just the fact that “Brittany Runs a Marathon” ever got past the Hollywood starting line as is – a funny, complicated comedy starring a standout female performer whose character’s whole life isn’t magically fixed because she loses weight, starts a workout regimen and gets a new boyfriend – practically qualifies as a modern moviemaking miracle.
Scene-stealer Jillian Bell (“Office Christmas Party,” “22 Jump Street”) gets her chance at an interesting lead role and literally runs with it, playing a perpetually late, always broke New York party monster who goes to a new doctor hoping to score some recreational Adderall. Instead, Brittany gets the bad news that not only is her weight tipping the scales into obesity but that her blood pressure, liver enzymes and resting heart rate also are alarmingly high.
The doc encourages her to lose weight, exercise and make healthier choices, so she challenges herself to run just one block. Reluctantly taking the advice of her wealthy neighbor Catherine (Michaela Watkins), a photographer going through a nasty divorce, she joins a running group and befriends fellow newbie Seth (Micah Stock), a sardonic gay dad trying to better his body for the sake of his preschooler. Brittany impulsively proposes that the three of them set a mutual goal to run the New York City Marathon.
As her body gets fitter, Brittany starts getting the rest of her life into shape as well, including ditching the alleged best friend who mocks her healthier lifestyle (Alice Lee) and paying down her debts by getting a second job, where she meets a potential love interest in Jern Utkarsh Ambudkar), who is charming and caring but a slacker.
But real change is hard, and when Brittany’s quest to run the marathon hits a major roadblock, her insecurities, trust issues and low self-esteem become even bigger obstacles.
Writer-director Paul Downs Colaizzo makes his feature film debut with the crowd-pleasing comedy, which won an audience award at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. A playwright, he based the movie on his real-life best friend, which may account for the fact that it dodges easy answers and superficial uplifts in favor of a story that’s more meaningful, humorous and true-to-life.