Brittany Runs a Marathon: Colaizzo’s Comedy Starring Jillian Bell

Playwright Paul Downs Colaizzo makes a most promising directorial debut with
Brittany Runs a Marathon, an irreverent, surprisingly emotional comedy
inspired by real events.  The likeable Jillian Bell plays a party girl who finally finds real friends and dignity by taking control of her future.
The film won the 2019 Sundance Film Fest Audience Award (in January), which speaks well of its commercial potential when it hits theaters in late August. It has not been a particularly good time for American indies so far, and there are hopes that this low-budget inspirational indie will change the course.
The film offers a fresh take (and a twist) on a familiar protagonist: an outgoing good-time New Yorker named Brittany Forgler, who goes through an early crisis–at 27–when realizing that her lifestyle of hard-partying ways, underemployment, and toxic relationships are catching up with her.
A visit to a doctor to get some Adderall leads to a new resolution–why not trying getting healthy. Too broke for a gym and too proud to ask for help, Brit is at a loss–until her neighbor Catherine pushes her to lace up her Converse sneakers and run one sweaty block.
Thus begins a new regime: The next day, Brit runs two blocks, and after finishing her first mile, she proudly and ambitiously decides to run in the New York City Marathon.
Writer-director Paul Downs Colaizzo drew on personal experiences for his
debut film, which he describes as a love letter to his best friend, Brittany O’Neill. “It was born out of the compelling, painful, hilarious and inspiring journey she took in her late 20s,” he explains. “My concept for the film was to take a stock character from big American comedies–the ‘hot mess,’ the ‘fat sidekick’–and turn the camera squarely in her direction. What’s her human story? What does she want? What does she struggle with? And how is her story
everyone’s story?”
Known for his archly witty depictions of 21st-century American life, including his Helen Hayes Award-winning play “Really Really,” Colaizzo crafts a poignant portrait of a young woman uncovering her long-buried potential.
The filmmaker and O’Neill became friends in college: “She was everyone’s favorite person to be around. She had a way of making everything into a hilarious joke. But her life was also dysfunctional–by late 20s, she was neglecting her student loans and drinking on weeknights.”
And then she decided to make a change. Brittany began running, first for just a few blocks. “I watched her realize she was capable of more than she thought,” the filmmaker recalls. “She began to shift what she expected from herself. I knew, as a writer, that a story like this needed to be told and it needed a big-screen treatment. Characters like Brittany don’t usually get to have depth and pathos in movies. I wanted to give this archetype a true hero’s journey and let it be both entertaining and emotional.”
O’Neill never expected her story would end up on screen. “Paul had already been such a huge part of my decision to get healthy,” she says. “He even helped me create a fundraising video so I could pay the fee to enter the marathon. When he told me he was writing a movie about me and my journey, I was surprised and excited.”
The basic premise of the film–a young woman who decides to change her life by
running the New York City Marathon–is true, but Colaizzo took significant
liberties with the details. O’Neill’s parents are alive, and rather than taking tickets at a theater, she actually served as managing director at New York’s Naked Angels theater company at age 23.
“But I was a mess in many ways and hadn’t yet put much effort into building a life for myself that I really liked,” she recalls. After spending years reading first drafts of her best friend’s plays, O’Neill found herself giving feedback on a story loosely based on her own life. “Talking about a character who was going through a lot of what I was going through was both fun and beneficial. Reading Paul’s version of Brittany helped me realize I was focusing so much on my weight. I was trying to find other metrics to prove that I should be allowed to love myself. Really, I ended up being inspired by a story that was inspired by me.”
Colaizzo’s script celebrates his friend’s experience, as well as the capacity we all have to change our lives. “At the top of the film, Brittany is a guaranteed good time,” he says. “She wears purposeful blinders that make her unthreatening and directionless. You will never feel bad about yourself hanging out with that version of Brittany. But we watch as she starts to look at herself and her life in a different way. She becomes self-aware and self-respecting. That’s something we can all be inspired by.”
Cast
It stars Jillian Bell (22 Jump Street, “Workaholics”), Michaela Watkins (“Casual,” “Trophy Wife”), Tony Award nominee Micah Stock (“Escape at Dannemora,” “Bonding”), Utkarsh Ambudkar (Pitch Perfect, “The Mindy Project”), Alice Lee (“Take Two,” Sierra Burgess Is a Loser) and Lil Rel Howery (Get Out, Bird Box).
Credits
The film is produced by Tobey Maguire (Best of Enemies, Pawn Sacrifice), Matthew  Plouffe (The Fifth Wave, The Best of Enemies) and Margot Hand (Tumbledown, Permission).
Director of photography is Seamus Tierney (Boys Don’t Cry, Adam).
Production designer is Erin Magill (Hearts Beat Loud, Flock of Four). Editor is Casey Brooks (Obvious Child, Landline).
Original music is by Duncan Thum (“Chef’s Table,” The Iron Orchard). Costume designer is Stacey Berman (The Miseducation of Cameron Post, Villains).
Executive producers are Jillian Bell, Paul Downs
Colaizzo and Richard Weinberg (Boys in the Wood, Rub & Tug).