Fans of the multitalented writer, actor, and all-around scene-stealer Jillian Bell already know that she’s hilarious. But in her new movie, Brittany Runs a Marathon (out August 23), Bell proves that she’s more than just your favorite part of Workaholics or 22 Jump Street. She’s ready to tell stories about complicated and flawed women, make you cry when you’re least expecting it, and yeah, she still wants to make you laugh. “It’s in the moments when you’re crying hard that you really want there to be a moment where the director or the actor makes you laugh, and lightens up the mood a little bit,” says Bell. “Or the opposite: [in Brittany], we have a lot of scenes that are super funny, and then you realize, Oh, there’s something underneath here.”
Brittany, which premiered earlier this year to sparkling reviews at Sundance, is Paul Downs Colaizzo’s debut as writer/director, and stars 35-year-old Bell as the titular character, a woman who’s perfectly content with her less-than-healthy lifestyle. When her party-girl ways catch up to her, though, a doctor suggests she make some changes, stat, and Brittany teaches herself to run one New York City block at a time, ultimately leading up to her final goal: the city’s 26-mile marathon. “When Paul came to me with this script, I cried and I related to it and I laughed and I just thought, ‘I’ve been through a lot of this journey, besides the training for a marathon,’” she says. And then, just like her character, Bell started to train, using a running plan she found on Pinterest called Couch to 5K.
When I ask about the challenges she confronted while shooting the film, I expect to hear more about the process of learning to run, or about portraying a story that’s equal parts comedic and inspirational. But Bell tells me that the emotional aspects “before shooting, during shooting, and after shooting” were some of the toughest. “I actually had a woman come up to me after the Provincetown Film Festival,” says Bell. “She pulled me aside and said, ‘So, you were a little bit bigger, and then you lost all that weight. Did you feel more confident when you were smaller?’ And I said that actually, I felt the opposite. There’s a lot that goes on when you change your body, and I don’t think people talk about that enough.”
In a world where women’s bodies are so scrutinized and plus-size female characters are often reduced to punchlines or makeover plotlines, creating a feminist movie about a woman who changes her lifestyle—and, as a result, her appearance—can be difficult terrain to navigate, but Bell knows it. And she’s tired of the same age-old narratives. “It’s usually a weight loss story, and all towards a romance, too—you’re finally getting the guy since you’ve lost all the weight,” she says. “That’s such a horrible message. I don’t relate to it. I’ve experienced throughout my entire life ups and downs with weight loss and body image, and that’s not the story I would like to tell.”
So, what is the story she wants to tell? She says Brittany fits the bill. “It’s a story about a woman trying to take one step forward,” Bell says. “And I feel like that can apply to anything.”
By Lydia Wang
Photographed by Rebecca Cabage
Styled by Hayley Atkin @ The Wall Group
Hair by Robert Lopez @ Solo Artists
Makeup by Fabiola Arancibia @ TMG L.A.
Top suit by Tory Burch; blouse by Pinko; vintage earrings
This article originally appeared in the September/October 2019 print edition of BUST Magazine. Subscribe today!
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