Greetings again from the darkness. Philosophically speaking, each of us is running our own marathon of life. Of course, every person’s marathon has its own obstacles and challenges, and most of us have happiness as our end goal for the finish line. This first feature film from writer-director Paul Downs Colaizzo is based on the real life struggles of his friend Brittany, whose photos are shared over the closing credits.
Jillian Bell stars as Brittany, a 28 year old New York City party girl dedicated to avoiding adult responsibilities. She struggles to make ends meet financially, yet manages to drink copious amounts of alcohol and partake in recreational drug use. A trip to a Yelp-referred doctor in hopes of scoring Adderall ends with a harsh realization when he asks if she is making “healthy choices” … her BMI places her in the obese category. Suddenly her friends’ claiming she is the funniest person in the room can be interpreted as Brittany using humor as a coping method – a trait she recognizes in another character later in the story.
This is no simple “chick flick” filled with punchlines. Well, OK, it has plenty of punchlines thanks to the comedic brilliance of Ms. Bell, however, the film is also loaded with the emotional burdens that accompany societal standards. It exposes the nasty side of human nature in how we treat those who are overweight, or not meeting the accepted standard of attractiveness, or not wealthy enough, or not fashion-oriented, or whatever other standard being applied at any given time. Brittany takes us on the emotional journey of seeking happiness and self-actualization when one is mired in insecurities and depression. It’s a journey that can be tough to watch and tough to experience.
The underappreciated Michaela Watkins plays Brittany’s neighbor Catherine, whose athletic and artistic façade camouflage her shattered marriage and the accompanying pain. Ms. Watkins clearly embraces offbeat projects, as evidenced by her role in BRIGSBY BEAR (2017) and by appearing with Jillian Bell in this year’s indie gem SWORD OF TRUST. When Brittany laces up her Chucks and runs that first block, Catherine jumps in and invites her to join a runner’s club. It’s there that Brittany and Catherine meet Seth (Micah Stock), an out of shape gay man proving to his son he is a strong father that can be relied upon. We see all three become friends, and though Brittany may have motivated them to run the NYC Marathon, we see that each is running for their own reason.
Other supporting work is provided by Lil Rey Howery (GET OUT) as Demetrius, Brittany’s brother-in-law and surrogate step-father via Skype; Alice Lee as Gretchen, Brittany’s narcissistic vlogger roommate; and Utkarsh Ambudkar as Jern, Brittany’s slacker co-worker turned friend turned romantic partner. Even though Jillian Bell owns the film as Brittany, each of the talented support cast brings depth to their roles, allowing these to be actual people to whom we can relate. It’s a risky move casting so many improve comedians, but the result is quite impressive.
The film is loaded with life lessons and chuckles, and with that comes moments of cruelty, self-centeredness, insecurity and depression. Friendship is key here. Is someone your friend if they belittle you and keep you around so they feel better about themselves? Are we a good friend if we don’t allow others to support and help us out in times of need? The message these days is to accept yourself, and find happiness in the type of person you are. Brittany shows us that finding yourself is a crucial first step, and that accepting yourself doesn’t mean accepting bad habits and poor health. The film was well received at Sundance, and it’s easy to see why … much easier than running that first block.
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