Film Critic

Chuck Koplinski is The News-Gazette's film critic. His email is chuckkoplinski@gmail.com and you can follow him on Twitter (@ckoplinski).

SR Brittany Runs Marathon

Jillian Bell stars as the title character in 'Brittany Runs a Marathon' (2019).

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The power in Paul Down Colaizzo’s “Brittany Runs a Marathon” comes from the fact that we so easily identify with the titular character, a young woman who isn’t living her life as much as floating through it.

She makes no conscious choices where the direction of her life is concerned; she allows herself to be acted upon rather than acting in her own best interests. As a result, she finds herself in a dead-end job, is stuck with a self-absorbed roommate who walks all over her and has picked up more than a few bad habits. She’s overweight, a condition she’s been in denial about that’s affected her in ways she can’t possibly understand.

“Marathon” charts Brittany’s journey toward realizing it’s all right to be less than perfect, that we are all fallible and that the self-loathing that can result from being hard on yourself is a trap far too easy to fall into and incredibly difficult to escape. To Colaizzo’s credit, he doesn’t insult our intelligence by making our heroine’s trial too easy.

A visit to the doctor’s office in a failed attempt to get a prescription for Adderall is the wake-up call for Brittany. She’s told she has high blood pressure, likely a fatty liver and needs to lose 55 pounds. This is not what she wants to hear, but once she takes a good look at herself, as she catches a glimpse reflected off a stainless-steel hot dog cart no less, she realizes change is in order. She begins by running one block — then two —… then a few more, until she’s able to knock off a couple miles, albeit with great effort.

She’s not alone in trying to get her life together. She meets Glenn (Adam Sietz), a dad attempting to prove to his daughter that he has a modicum of athleticism, and Catherine (Michaela Watkins), a woman with her own past and issues who finds solace in blocking out the world when she’s running. They decide to train for and run the New York City Marathon and pick each other up when need be. The friendship on display is a much-needed example of the sort of kindness we are desperately in need of today.

As Brittany, Jillian Bell is a revelation. Traditionally cast in comedic roles, she shows she’s just as adept at delivering a poignant performance as she is at cracking wise. The actress brings Brittany’s vulnerability out in subtle ways, with simple gestures that reveal her lack of confidence — the inability to look anyone in the eye or the nervous comments she makes that reveal her insecurities. It’s a genuine, lived-in performance, a relatable turn that builds throughout the film and results in a sincere catharsis as we find ourselves experiencing with her every low, and gloriously, her final triumph.

There are problems with Colaizzo’s script. There are scenes and relationships that require more explanation than is provided, while there’s some rather significant events that are only mentioned in passing and desperately in need of further explanation. But no matter, the movie’s powerful message trumps all of this.

Inspirational but never preachy, moving but never saccharine, “Brittany Runs a Marathon” is a powerful testament to overcoming our greatest enemy and learning to love the person that’s so easy to hate — ourselves. This is a sincere film that winds up moving the viewer with a sense of honesty that’s far too rare.

Also new in theaters

Lazy screenwriting hampers “It Chapter 2” (★★ out of four). Andy Muschietti’s follow-up to the 2017 reboot is a triumph of production design — a meticulously rendered, at-times-morbidly-beautiful film that is never less than captivating to look at.

Whether it be the make-up effects that bring its villainous clown Pennywise to life, the rundown, hovel-chic house where he resides or the elaborately rendered nightmare trips to the past that haunt its protagonists, the movie is never less than visually engaging. At least there’s that, as the screenplay by Gary Dauberman, based on the novel by Stephen King, is a rather thin affair, a repetitious piece of work that wastes far too much time covering the same ground and not nearly enough explaining some key factors that would have provided some much-needed clarity to the proceedings.

If you were one of the seven or eight people on the planet who did not see the first film, no worries. A concise summation of all that occurred and a reintroduction to all of the key players is done quickly and efficiently. No time is wasted establishing that the nefarious, thought-to-be-vanquished Pennywise is indeed back in business, terrorizing the children of the cursed town of Derry and appearing in the dreams of the Losers – the gang of kids in the first film who have now grown up and separated. The only one of them who stayed behind, Mike (Isaiah Mustafa), recognizes that this evil has returned and calls his cohorts home, reminding them of a promise they’d wish he’d forgotten – to return to Derry to battle Pennywise again, if the need arises.

Bill (James McAvoy) has become a successful writer, Beverly (Jessica Chastain) is a fashion designer, Richie (Bill Hader) is a stand-up comic, Ben (Jay Ryan) is an architect and Eddie (James Ransone) works in risk management. They all reluctantly gather in their old hometown — all except one, Stanley (Andy Bean), who commits suicide rather than return. (File him under “Bad Friend, Smart Guy.”) They are informed by Mike that, after investigating local Native American lore, they each have to recover a token from their past and burn them together as part of a ceremony to finally kill Pennywise.

The story becomes fragmented at this point, as each of the characters goes their own way, visits old haunts and ends up having to revisit old nightmares and be terrorized by the omnipresent clown for their trouble. These events comprise most of the movie’s second hour (it clocks in at just under three), which for the most part is very effective. The film hits its stride here with one genuine jolt after another; of particular note is a sequence in which Beverly revisits the apartment where she once lived to find a new tenant who’s more (or is it less?) than she seems, and a scene in which Bill finds himself trapped in a hall of mirrors with Pennywise. Muschietti presses all the right buttons here, giving viewers exactly what they paid for.

Yet as we’ve seen time and again, you can always overdo a good thing. The movie’s final hour has our heroic group return to Pennywise’s house for the final throwdown, where they are promptly separated and forced to revisit old nightmares and be terrorized by the omnipresent clown. Sound familiar?

The third act is basically a duplicate of the second and becomes an exercise in overkill and delay. We know the fate that awaits Pennywise, and in putting it off, its impact is dulled and almost anticlimactic. As a way of distracting us from this narrative déjà vu, Muschietti ups the gore factor to the point that it’s almost comical, while the movie’s villain becomes hard to swallow when he’s running around on giant crab legs. Really, it all becomes quite silly by the end.

The movie’s biggest mistake is its reliance on gore at the expense of narrative clarity. Far too little is said about Pennywise’s background, origin or purpose. His motives are hinted at but never fleshed out. The explanation from King’s novel, as Lovecraftian ridiculous as it is, is at least something. Here, Pennywise is nothing more than that gruesome figure that pops out once you turn the corner you didn’t want to turn in a haunted house.

Missed opportunities dog “It Chapter 2,” a movie that desperately wants to be taken seriously yet succeeds only in becoming a parody of what it longs to be.

For DVR alerts, film recommendations and movie news, follow Koplinski on Twitter (@ckoplinski). He can be reached via email at chuckkoplinski@gmail.com.