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Jillian Bell gears up for the run of her life in "Brittany Runs a Marathon."

You don’t have to be a fitness geek with 2 percent body fat to run a marathon. In fact, it’s possible to be quite heavy and finish one of those races. The point of a marathon isn’t really running that arbitrary distance of 26.2 miles but rather setting a goal and sticking with it despite the inevitable pain. Those are the worthy messages of the flawed but crowd-pleasing Brittany Runs a Marathon, which expands to Fort Worth this week.

Jillian Bell stars as the titular Brittany, a spottily employed 29-year-old New Yorker who visits her doctor (Patch Darragh) to bum an Adderall prescription to continue her life of hard partying. Instead, he diagnoses her as obese at 5’6” and 197 pounds and instructs her to lose at least 45. “That’s the weight of a Siberian husky!” she protests. “You want me to pull a medium-sized working dog off my body.” Blanching at the cost of gym memberships, Brittany takes the DIY approach to weight loss by running. She starts with a city block a day — if you’ve been to Manhattan, you know those are short — but sets her sights on eventually running the New York City Marathon, almost 12 months away.

The 35-year-old Bell is an accomplished comic actor whom you may remember as the supervillain in 22 Jump Street and the hard-swearing best friend in Rough Night. She deserves her own showcase and delivers on the laughs here, especially in the scenes between Brittany and her running pals, her recovering-addict landlady (Michaela Watkins) and a gay man (Micah Stock) who wants to be in shape now that he’s a father. Even better, she and the film both know that Brittany’s insecurities about being fat don’t go away when the fat does. Her thin roommate (Alice Lee) starts resenting her the more weight she loses, and Brittany’s own psychological issues make her push away a potential romantic partner (Utkarsh Ambudkar) as well as be horrible to a dinner party guest (Sarah Bolt) who’s heavier than Brittany ever was.

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I do wish that every single subplot hadn’t been wrapped up with a neat little bow with all these supporting characters giving her a homily about taking responsibility for her health and her life. It’s good that Brittany loses weight without ever becoming supermodel-thin, but the film loses the chance to comment on how our society values a slender appearance more than actual physical fitness, a point that the 1996 version of The Nutty Professor made well.

A bit more than 10 years ago, I was about the same size as Brittany at this film’s start. Though I didn’t have an alcohol and partying habit to kick, I did realize the hard way that I needed to exercise and stop eating like I did in college. Keeping the weight off has been a continuing struggle, but fitting into smaller clothes and being able to walk five miles at a stretch has been worth it. That sense of striving and the rewards that come with it is the part of Brittany Runs a Marathon that resonated with me. I know there are others who can relate. 

Brittany Runs a Marathon

Starring Jillian Bell and Utkarsh Ambudkar. Written and directed by Paul Downs Colaizzo. Rated R.

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