As we all know, this year’s Sundance Film Festival started last week on Thursday.
To me, Sundance has always signified the official start of a new cinematic year. Not only is it the first of the major festivals but it’s also when we first learn about the films that we’ll be looking forward to seeing all year. It seems like every year, there’s at least one successful (or nearly successful) Oscar campaign that gets it start at Sundance. This year, for instance, people are already intrigued by Zola, Minari, Shirley, and Ironbark and it’s almost entirely due to how those films have been received at Sundance.
My initial plan for this year was to spend the last few days of January looking at some of the films that have won awards or otherwise created a splash at previous Sundance Film Festivals. I was planning on starting last Thursday but then I came down with a terrible cold, from which I’m still recovering.
So, instead, I’m starting today. It happens. In the past, I would have beaten myself up over not starting on time but, if I’ve learned anything from my 10 years of writing for TSL, it’s that sometimes you just have to accept that life can be unpredictable. Sometimes, you just have to embrace the mystery.
Anyway, to start things off, I want to take a look at one of my favorite films from last year, Brittany Runs A Marathon.
When we first meet Brittany Forgler (Jillian Bell), she is a 28 year-old New Yorker who works at a theater. She’s single. She’s funny. She’s irresponsible. She usually either drunk or hungover. In many ways, she’s the ideal friend. You wouldn’t necessarily want her to be your best friend, of course. But she’s still someone who seems like she’d be the perfect member of a group, in that she can make a joke but, at the same time, she doesn’t have much of a life so you don’t have to worry about her attracting attention away from you. Add to that, Brittany has an Adderall prescription, which she tends to abuse. (It happens.) Everyone loves someone who can provide them easy access to prescription medication.
In fact, it’s while she’s trying to get her prescription updated that Brittany is given some very serious news. Her doctors informs her that she’s not very healthy. She’s overweight and rarely gets any exercise. Her doctor tells her that she needs to change that. And since Brittany can’t afford to be a member of even the cheapest of gyms, it seems like the only option left is to start running.
In New York City.
Now, you can probably guess from the title that Brittany eventually comes to love running and decides that she wants to run in the New York marathon. And you can probably guess that, about halfway through the movie, Brittany faces a crisis that causes her to consider just giving up. As far as the running is concerned, this is a likable but occasionally predictable film.
Fortunately, Brittany Runs A Marathon is about more than just running. It’s about growing up and taking responsibility for your life but it’s also about loving who you are, regardless of who that might be. What makes this film so special is that Brittany doesn’t automatically become an Olympic class runner. Nor does her life magically come together just because she manages to complete a 5k. Instead, what makes this film so special is that it’s about Brittany finding her own happiness and accepting who she is. When Brittany struggles, it’s impossible not to feel for her. When Brittany succeeds, it’s impossible not to cheer.
It helps that this is also a terrifically funny film. The dialogue is sharp and witty and Jillian Bell is one of those actresses who can make even the simplest of lines hilarious. (She can also make them heart-breaking when she needs to.) While Brittany is running, she’s also working as a pet sitter. When she discovers that another pet sitter, Jern (Utkarsh Ambudkar), is essentially squatting in their employer’s house while she’s out of town, Brittany ends up moving in with him. Everyone tells Brittany that she’s eventually going to end up sleeping with Jern. Brittany says it will never happen. Jern says it will never happen. We know it will happen because Bell and Ambudkhar have such a wonderful chemistry. They’re like a 21st century version of Tracy and Hepburn.
I wasn’t expecting much from Brittany Runs A Marathon but it’s a good film, a funny comedy with a good heart and serious points to make. Not surprisingly, it was also loved at Sundance, where it won the Audience Award.