Tag Archives: Jillian Bell

Running for Her Life

Brittany Runs a Marathon

by George Wolf

In a surprisingly touching circle of art and life and imitating, Brittany Runs a Marathon charts its main narrative course with humor, charm and insight, while solid doses of humanity are never out of sight.

It may be the based-on-truth story of a woman taking control of her life, but in the process, it’s also the story of longtime supporting actor not only taking the lead, but literally transforming before our eyes.

Writer/director Paul Downs Colaizzo, a playwright and TV director making his feature debut, drew inspiration from close friend Brittany O’Neil, who got her messy affairs in order by making some big changes.

One of those was a commitment to running, and a goal to complete the New York City marathon.

The film version finds Brittany Folger (Jillian Bell) out of shape and out of sorts. Allowing herself to be used by friends and randos, Brittany is the fat, funny sidekick who uses her quick, caustic wit as a suit of armor.

Early on, Brittany is just the sort of vessel Bell has used to steal big and small screen scenes for years. She nails the setup with hilarity, which isn’t surprising. But the most impressive layer in Bell’s performance is how she ups her game when the laughs don’t come as often, dodging any false notes in Brittany’s wake up call.

We knew Bell could do funny, but this is a performance full of drama that’s equally impressive (if not more).

Credit Colaizzo for some equally deft maneuvering, making sure this is more complex that the standard “get hot to get happy” makeover fantasy you could hardly be blamed for expecting.

Brittany may joke about people who “missed the point of those Dove ads,” but when she tells her attractive friend that “my life is just harder than yours,” it rings with the capital that Colaizzo’s script has earned.

The in-the-moment nods are numerous but not overdone, contrasting Brittany’s self-loathing with the emptiness of comparing real life to social media staging or quick assumptions from afar.

As hard as it is for Brittany to stick with running, dropping the pounds is the easy part. She has to grow emotionally, starting with accepting the fact that she’s worthy of the friendship her running pals (Michaela Watkins, Micah Stock) are offering.

And what’s up with Jern (Utkarsh Ambudkar- terrific), who pulls the night housesitting shift the same place Brittany handles the daytime? Is he stuck in the friend zone? Is she?

Sure, the film has a convenient plot turn or two, but this is some sneaky good crowd-pleasing. Brittany Runs a Marathon ropes you with the comfort of formula, then dopes you with emotional complexities, warm sincerity and a knockout lead performance.

Winner winner sensible dinner.

Turtles, All the Way Down

Sword of Trust

by Cat McAlpine

On a hot summer day Cynthia (Jillian Bell) and Mary (Michaela Watkins) walk into an Alabama pawn shop with a sword to sell. Shop owner Mel (Marc Maron) listens in disbelief as the women explain: This isn’t just any sword. This Union officer’s sword, and its accompanying documents, can prove that the South actually won the Civil War.

Sword of Trust pokes at what and who we believe in, and why. What leads people to believe that the world is actually flat or the deep state is actively erasing battles from history books? How many times can we forgive someone before we simply can’t anymore? Filmed on location in Birmingham, the pace of the film matches the speed of summer in the south. No one moves too fast, talks too loud, or quite gets to the point.

Penned by Lynn Shelton (who also directed) and Mike O’Brien, the dialogue is almost too natural, suggesting that most of the script was largely improvised. The frame work is a little choppy, with a focus on Cynthia and Mary at the start that suggests more of an ensemble focus than is delivered.

As the action picks up Cynthia, Mary, Mel, and pawn shop assistant Nathaniel (Jon Bass, loveable) all warily agree to pile into the back of a moving van with an unknown destination.

“This is definitely how people die.”

“This is how individual people die. There’s four of us.”

Then, we’re hit with a momentum bait and switch. The longest scene of the film takes place in the back of the van where the characters explain exactly how they came to this point in their lives. This is when realize the real film is about Mel, and his ability to find satisfaction in life despite its disappointments.

As the emotional epicenter, Maron is a marvelous star. Not dissimilar from his performance in Netflix’s GLOW, Maron has the beautiful, stuttering delivery of a man who can admit his life is “tragic” without ever truly contemplating that reality. Unfortunately, the rest of the film doesn’t rise to meet his performance.

The action is predictable and anticlimactic. Mel is worrying over bad decisions and a woman he’s still in love with, but his only onscreen interaction with Deirdre (Lynn Shelton, again) is early on and devoid of context. There are bright spots, like Nathaniel’s patient diligence in trying to explain to Cynthia how the world is actually flat, but the film doesn’t quite shine.

The Sword of Trust skims over the top of conspiracy theories and their cult followers. Every believer is either a backwoods idiot or a loveable idiot, both easily dismissed. There’s an opportunity to explore the cultural black holes that create these communities, but Mel isn’t really interested in them, so the narrative isn’t either.

Ultimately, this is a worthy effort to highlight the people and stories that find themselves in small, southern towns. But the film would’ve benefitted from either more evenly distributing its focus on the lives of all of its players or narrowing the narrative sharply on Mel.

More Bad Things

Rough Night

by Hope Madden

I did not have high expectations for this one, I’m not going to lie. Though the raunchy trailer offered a couple chuckles, I couldn’t help but think two things.

1) What is Scarlett Johansson doing in a “girls weekend” movie?
2) Isn’t this the same premise as Peter Berg’s 1998 black comedy Very Bad Things?

That first one is tough to answer, but the second is a very loud yes.

ScarJo plays Jess, wholesome politician lured into a bachelorette weekend with her college besties. She’s hoping for a quiet night, but she’s quickly guilted into binge drinking, casual drug use and, of course, a stripper.

Things get dark after that.

Yes, cinematic bachelor/bachelorette party zaniness is beyond tired. Still, there’s reason for hope. This cast, for instance.

Johansson is among the most talented and versatile actors working, as at ease with comedy as she is drama. Zoe Kravitz is strong as well, but the real reason for optimism is the rest of the party.

Kate McKinnon – flat out hilarious and able to steal scenes at will from anybody.

Ilana Glazer (Broad City) – effortlessly wrong-minded and hilarious.

Jillian Bell (Workaholics) – maybe the wrong-mindedest of them all.

The trio delivers, McKinnon in particular. Boasting that crazy-eye thing she does, as well as a ridiculous Aussie accent, her every moment on screen brings with it a “what exactly is she doing” quality that can’t help but infuse even flat scenes with a little electricity.

And there are flat scenes. Lucia Aniello makes her feature directing debut, working from a script she co-wrote with fellow Broad City alum Paul W. Downs (who also co-stars as Jess’s fiancé). Too much feels borrowed and several of the longer bits go nowhere.

But she and DownS are blessed with performers who know what to do with the material. Each creates a distinct and memorable personality. And the whole film has some fun at the expense of the state of Florida’s questionable laws.

There’s nothing new here. Honestly, nothing. But What Aniello and her talented cast do with a variety of set-ups is sometimes inspired and often very funny.



Readin’, Writin’, Teacher Fightin’

Fist Fight

by George Wolf

At Roosevelt High, it’s the last day before summer break, and the school’s online newspaper gets a breaking story:


Seems the meek Mr. Campbell (Charlie Day) snitched on the scary Mr. Strickland (Ice Cube), and you know what they say about snitches. They get their asses beat on the playground while the whole school watches…and they will most likely require stitches at some point.

Fist Fight is often contrived and ridiculous, and has those funny bloopers ready to roll as soon as possible, but ya know, it fills the class with enough likable clowns to get a pass.

The two leads aren’t asked to venture beyond their respective comfort zones, but do display some nice comic timing that bolsters their easy chemistry. Cube pushes his menacing persona and steely glare for all they are worth while Day does the same with the naturally funny pairing of his diminutive stature and high-pitched wheeze. The conflict of their characters is grounded just by these two actors sharing the same frame, giving the film a comic foundation from the start.

Then you have the always weird and welcome Jillian Bell as a guidance counselor who’s really fond of drugs and “that tenis” (teenage penis), Kumail Nanjiani’s by-the-book school security officer and Tracy Morgan dispensing wisdom as Coach Crawford (“You can’t run away! Who is you, Seabiscuit?”) for a steady stream of nuttiness.

Director Richie Keen makes his feature debut after years of TV episodes (including Day’s It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia), keeping the pace lively and the mood raunchy. He even shows a little theatrical flair once the students’ start spreading rumors of Mr.Strickland’s murderous past, and the fantasies play out with hilarious excess.

Fist Fight offers violence, plenty of sex-fueled gags and the obligatory foul-mouthed grade-schooler. It’s an adult education, for sure, and just funny enough not to skip.




The Weed of Christmas Present

The Night Before

by Hope Madden

It was fun spending the apocalypse with Seth Rogen and his friends, so why not Christmas?

The Night Before gives you that chance. Isaac (Rogen) and BFF Chris (Anthony Mackie) have spent Christmas Eve with Ethan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) every year since his parents died. They have the same routine, hit the same spots, seek the same elusive party. But the tradition’s getting a little pathetic as the trio heads into their mid-thirties, so this is their last holiday hurrah.

It’s a lame set-up about embracing adulthood without abandoning your true friends, but there’s magical Christmas weed and a slew of hilarious cameos, so maybe things will work out OK?

JGL is reliably likeable, Rogen is – well, you know what you get with him. Mackie is no comic genius and his performance feels a bit too broad. But the secret here is in the supporting players.

Jillian Bell is characteristically hilarious, as is Broad City’s Ilana Glazer, but the way Michael Shannon walks away with scenes is tantamount to larceny. He doesn’t do a lot of comedy (unless you count that sorority girl’s letter online), but his deadpan performance is easily the highlight of the film.

It’s hard to tell whether the film is too silly or not silly enough. It has its laughs, raunchy though they are, but the adventure feels simultaneously slapped together and formulaic.

Director Jonathan Levine (50/50) and his team of writers (including Evan Goldberg, natch) dip a toe in schmaltz rather than investing at all in actual character development, preferring to string together episodes of goofball fun.

The zany misadventures aren’t enough to carry the film, and lacking depth of character creates a “holiday spirit” climax that is tough to care about.