In Brittany Runs a Marathon, Jillian Bell plays the title character, an overworked, underpaid, desperate millennial trying to keep her head above water in the big bad city. It's an experience to which many urban dwellers can relate, and her struggles with weight, money, love, friendship, and self esteem are almost too much to bear. Brittany ultimately turns to exercise, and the long-term goal of running a marathon, as a means to turn her life around and take control of her destiny.
Jillian Bell is best known for her roles in TV shows like Workaholics and movies such as 22 Jump Street and Rough Night. She also created and starred in the cult Comedy Central series, Idiotsitter. Her role in Brittany Runs a Marathon, directed by Paul Downs Colaizzo, marks her first credit as the lead actor in a feature film.
At a New York City press day for Brittany Runs a Marathon, Jillian Bell sat down with Screen Rant to discuss the themes and lessons of the Amazon Original, from its criticisms of social media culture to why the film is so much more than just a story about losing weight and being happy.
When you say, "Debbie Does Napping," my whole theater just exploded.
Debbie does napping!
That's so good!
It's such a big part of your character, who uses humor as a deflection to cover up anything, whether its the way she feels at the beginning of the movie, or when she's trying to con her way into a job. Is that something you brought to the story, or was it always part of Brittany O'Neill?
It was always a part of the story. The real Brittany O'Neill is very funny and sweet and amazing, and definitely inspiring, obviously. But yeah, that was always part of Paul's perception of the whole film. He wanted to include the fact that, a lot of times, we use humor to deflect some painful things that happened in our lives. And I actually think he did a brilliant job of using a certain device throughout the film; when she's very uncomfortable, she puts on a cockney accent to say some truths.
How much of that was you, did you ever go, "I want to put in a joke," but was it ever too funny, like, no, this is supposed to be a very serious scene...
I think there were a couple of scenes where we were like, well... There were more scenes in this film than in anything else I've ever done where we were sort of like, "Let's stick to the script." The scene in the beginning where I'm taking theater tickets was probably the most I improvised in the film. But throughout, there was a couple of spots where it felt right. Paul was super collaborative, and we were always having conversations about the intention of the character, and when she should be funny, and when she shouldn't hide behind the humor throughout her journey.
This movie has a lot of... Maybe an indictment of millennial culture and our quest for likes. It's like they're running a different race, and this movie says, we should go back to running a race for ourselves, which, in this case, is a literal race.
Right! Absolutely. I think it's important to hit on what's happening right now, and how social media plays into our lives. There's scenes in the movie where she's scrolling through and looking at how people's lives appear to be super successful. I go through that, even today, looking through and seeing how everyone's on vacation or having kids or doing this job that I'd love to do. It was a very relatable thing that I think Paul wanted to put in the film.
Kinda building off that, in the millennial culture, there's that great relationship with your roommate, Gretchen. It's a secondary, but central part of this movie, just showing those two different races and that quest for self-esteem.
Right! And also, toxic friendships. That's something I don't feel like is often hit upon in movies like this. You know, what happens when you end up realizing that someone who you thought was your best friend is actually, maybe not the person who's rooting for you to win, and ending those relationships. That happened to me, too, in my 20s and early 30s. Just, sort of, focusing on... Which friendships in my life fill up my fountain, so to say, and which ones drain me? I thought it was a cool thing I hadn't seen in a film before.
I think it all adds up to what's maybe the biggest misconception about this movie. People might think it's a movie about losing weight, when it's about so much more than that.
It's the opposite. It's a different kind of, some people call it, a transformation film, but it's different than one that I've ever seen. It's the kind of film I would have liked to have seen when I was a young girl, even. Showcasing, not just another story of someone losing weight and then they're better. We've seen that kind of film before, and I don't think it's healthy. And it's important to show the real highs and lows of what happens when you sort of change your life in any aspect.
Brittany Runs a Marathon is in theaters now.