Nobody likes it when a movie starts off strongly only to end up losing steam as its screenwriting starts to fail by adhering to convention. Alas, that is the sad fate that concerns Sundance hit “Brittany Runs a Marathon,” which is powered by a great Jillian Bell performance and a formidably infectious set-up, only to then pull a 180 and become a politically correct tale of self-empowerment.
When it does focus on its main character, plus-sized 27-year-old woman Brittany (Jillian Bell), the movie is nothing short of a pleasure to behold. Much of the film’s initial success is carefully stitched together by its debut writer-director Paul Downs Colaizzo’s and Bell’s star-making performance, as a millennial deciding to take control of her life by running.
Colaizzo, a prize-winning playwright, gives Bell some delectably humorous dialogue to chew on. Her Brittany can barely afford life in Manhattan, but she holds her own in the Big Apple’s dog-eat-dog world — with a sharp tongue and the kind of self-effacing remarks that Bell is known for, this is the movie that will catapult her to expansive new directions in the industry.
Despite an amicable circle of friends, Brittany does feel lonely. She can barely string together a long-term relationship, loves to drink and is unhealthily overweight. At a doctor’s appointment where the goal is to nab an Adderall prescription, for recreational purposes of course, Brit’s 5-foot-6 and 190 pound frame has the doc concerned. Brittany brushes off her MD’s suggestion of losing weight, but his insistence that she is in terrible shape and needs to lose it for health purposes does eventually begin to wander around her psyche.
Signing up at the gym is the first thing she does, but all the weights and machoism on display just aren’t her kind of environment. She figures why go indoors when it’s the summer and she could task herself with the modest goal of running a mile outdoors. This venture into running has Brittany hooked and, well, you probably know where this is going.
A subplot involving Brit’s arrangement with a young man named Jern (Utkarsh Ambudkar) to daytime apartment sit for a rich couple is, at first, breezily delivered, but it quickly starts to feel muddled and cliched as Brittany’s personality changes drastically right before our eyes. Ambudkar (excellent in “Blindspotting”) has great chemistry with Bell and Colaizzo’s dialogue manages to strip off the predictability that comes with the friendship.
Soon enough, more miles are added to Britanny’s itinerary, 35 pounds are lost and she decides to run the 26-mile New York marathon. That’s when the movie starts to lose its sense of identity and, more importantly, its humor. Jern is sidelined as well.
At this point, “Brittany Runs a Marathon” starts to feel like a different movie, as if it needs to conform with the hip zeitgeist attitude of social media instead of continuing its on-point brand of zany humor. Brittany becomes a whole other person; focused, unfunny and annoyingly self-serious. As if the weight was there for the funny, but the skinny frame now represents her boring new self. I’m sure Colaizzo didn’t intend it to feel this way, but the jarring feeling of familiarity that seeps into “Brittany Runs A Marathon” becomes all-too-familiar. [C+].