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'Brittany Runs a Marathon' review: Jillian Bell shines in feel-good NYC flick

Jillian Bell, right, with Micah Stock in "Brittany

Jillian Bell, right, with Micah Stock in "Brittany Runs a Marathon." Photo Credit: Amazon Studios/Anna Kooris

'Brittany Runs a Marathon'

Directed by Paul Downs Colaizzo

Starring Jillian Bell, Jennifer Dundas, Micah Stock

Rated R

Life, just like a 26.2-mile run, unfolds step-by-step, and along the way presents killer climbs and curves. Which means “Brittany Runs a Marathon” is laced with metaphor. This woman’s in the race of her life — like everybody else.

Drawn from actual events, the New York dramedy packs a faint echo of Amy Schumer’s “I Feel Pretty” as well as predictable twists and basically forsakes subtlety (subway doors repeatedly slamming in the kisser, for instance) and deep complexity. “I’m fat, I’m broke,” Brittany moans, after being told by a kill shelter she’s not even fit for a dog on Death Row.

Still, with its big-hearted story and bright star turn by executive producer Jillian Bell in the title role, it’d take a heart colder than a post-race ice bath not to be tickled or touched — actually, both — by the finish line of this flawed-but-appealing flick.

At 27, Brittany isn’t living her best life in Queens. Overweight, underemployed, and unloved but ripe with potential, she self-medicates with junk food, booze, and a so-called friend’s Adderall until a doctor warns that she and her Body Mass Index are going in the wrong direction.

“I feel like you totally missed the point of those Dove ads,” chirps Brittany in one of her signature snappy quips that she honed, we eventually learn, during her tumultuous childhood.

Brittany takes up running, obsessively checking the scale to monitor melting pounds. But her goal switches from losing weight to gaining control alongside unlikely pals — rigid Catherine (Michaela Watkins), a neighbor going through a brutal divorce; easygoing Seth (Micah Stock), a gay dad who’s apparently never seen the inside of a gym (who knew?); and man-boy Jern (Utkarsh Ambudkar), whom she encounters in a meet-cute situation. Eventually Brit decides to enter the NYC Marathon. But there’s rough road ahead, as old habits and defense mechanisms die hard.

Writer and director Paul Downs Colaizzo, who based the film on a friend, wisely gives Brittany jagged edges. Bell (“Rough Night”) strikes all the right chords and makes us root for this underdog.

In a smart stroke, Brittany frequently captures her own reflection — in mirrors, a window, and a sidewalk vendor’s metal cart. She later shifts her view to visualize herself in the marathon. Up ahead she sees her future. It’s something to run toward.

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