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August 13, 2012

I know, I know. you’re all sick of hearing about Fat Kid Rules the World, but this post really is necessary. Yes, I’ve reviewed the book; yes, I’ve turned to our readers to buy Michael a ticket; and yes, I’ve interviewed author KL Going about the movie. But after seeing the film itself, I feel compelled to offer a final review to cover what has not been covered before.

Namely, the directorial debut of Matthew Lillard, who shot the film on a micro-budget of  “far less than a million dollars.”

Given the ambition of the film, and its financial constraints, Fat Kid Rules the World should not be as fanciful as it is at times. That Lillard and Company could give us morbid glimpses into Troy’s mind on a shoestring budget is a radical feat unto itself. Whether it’s the opening scene of Troy being splattered by a bus or the SWAT Team that busts through a window, Fat Kid revels in these brief insights into Troy’s wild imagination.

It isn’t until I considered the budgetary limits of the film that I realized just how impressive these scenes were. But these scenes aren’t the heart of Fat Kid… they’re the decorative flowers on an otherwise delicious celluloid cake.

The real heart are the four main characters, Troy (Jacob Wysocki), Marcus (Matt O’Leary), Troy’s dad (Billy Campbell) and Troy’s brother Dayle (Dylan Arnold). Although Isabel (Lili Simmons) plays a significant role in the film, the character almost seemed like an afterthought intended to ground Troy’s affection, but her part seems almost unnecessary to the central story revolving around Troy and Marcus. But Isabel does give Troy the glimmer of hope that he might find love after all, which is a refreshing message for outsiders of all stripes.

What really shines in this film, though, is the relationship between Troy and Marcus. Wysocki’s Troy is restrained, horney and hyper-self-conscious, while O’Leary’s Marcus quivers with exuberance, humor and self-confidence. Both Wysocki and O’Leary add significant depth to two already-vibrant characters. As with the book, I felt like a part of their friendship, a silent observer witnessing some of the most harrowing moments of a teenager’s life, from Troy’s narrow escape (literally!) from Marcus’ house to the triumphs, big and small, of their band, the Tectonics.

And in between the personal struggles of Troy and Marcus, we get to witness Troy’s dad navigating the perils of being a single parent as he attempts to protect his son from the influence of Marcus, who is clearly abusing drugs (namely pharmaceuticals), and allowing Troy to build his self-worth through the kinds of social interactions from which he has been hiding.

Campbell strikes a tone of paternalistic hesitance that feels familiar to me, as the father of an adolescent boy. Like Troy’s father, I want my son to learn make good choices in life, but at the same time, I want him to be aware when he’s about to make a horrible choice. So, when his father bounces back and forth between forbidding Troy from hanging with Marcus, and practically pushing him to a punk rock club, I could sense Campbell’s reluctance to do the right thing, and it made me like him even more as a character. In weaker hands, Troy’s father could have been a caricature of the militaristic father, but between Lillard’s direction and Campbell’s performance, we see a father who struggles to help his son gain a foothold on the right path to self-confidence.

Meanwhile, Troy’s brother Dayle balances his dickish behavior in the book with his ultimate resignation that his “loser” brother might be cooler than he thought. The only problem is that this transition from enemy to ally is handled with greater subtlety in the book. I suspect there wasn’t enough screentime available for fleshing out that nuance, but Arnold infuses a lively contempt as the pesky, intrusive brother.

And for those wondering how Troy’s weight is handled in the movie, the answer is complicated. Yes, there are a number of scenes where Troy is conspicuously eating like a stereotypical fat kid, at one point dangling a hunk of roasted chicken skin into his mouth. But the impression I got from the film was that Troy’s eating was not the result of his lack of moral character or some inherent weakness on his part. Troy eats because it gives him comfort during times of stress, which he has experienced in grave quantities since the death of his mother. Troy’s hunger is not the butt of the joke or some commentary on childhood obesity, but a legitimate consequence of family tragedy.

There’s even a touching scene near the end of the film when Troy and his dad are sitting alone and Troy says, “It’s not your fault I”m fat, Dad.” Troy’s father seems uncomfortable with the subject, but reassures his son simply. Troy’s weight could have easily become an after school special on fatties, but instead shone some compassion on a complicated subject.

The only weakness I felt that the movie had was that there wasn’t enough time to show everything and say everything that needed to be said. This insufficient space manifests itself mostly in a few minor confusing moments near the beginning of the film when the editing seems a tad choppy and disoriented. But none of this takes away from the accomplishments of a first-time director on a severely restricted budget whose imagination and enthusiasm breathes life into a wonderful story.

This version of Fat Kid is the only version that could have, and should have, been made. In more experienced, better funded hands, the characters would have been watered down and the emotional core dissolved. Thankfully, Lillard took the helm of this punk story and hand-crafted a punk film for the ages.

Fat Kid the movie is an organic extension of Fat Kid the book, and for all its faults and flaws, this is the version we have wanted to see. With humor and heartbreak, the lives of Troy Billings and Marcus MacCrae rise from the page, inviting us to follow them as they pursue greatness. And by the time the credits roll, we know they will succeed.

Fat Kid Rules the World is a film for fat kids, by fat kids… and by “fat kids” I mean anyone who has been forced to the boundaries of society, watching the beautiful people have all the fun. If you can bring Fat Kid to your city, or attend an upcoming screening, I highly recommend it, and if you can’t, I assure you it’s worth the wait.

For once, the fat kids are ruling the box office and it’s about damned time.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. violetyoshi permalink
    August 13, 2012 7:34 pm

    Someone on Tumblr commented on this, saying it’s still sizeist to suggest that fat boys would have a thin girlfriend, like in this film. They need to show films with fat girls as role models, this may be a move in a positive direction, but it’s still the message that fat men can be accepted, but fat women will always be unacceptable.

    • August 13, 2012 10:27 pm

      This is just one film, and I think it’s a very honest and warm story. And whoever said that on Tumblr doesn’t know what they’re talking about.

      Yes, Isabel is thin. Troy likes traditionally attractive women, and a recurring theme of the book and the film is that Troy is motivated by being found attractive to women so that he can have sex. It’s a recurring theme of the teenage boys as well. The fact that Troy is attracted to a thin woman isn’t unusual in the least. In fact, I would find it highly unusual if Troy’s fantasies revolved around fat girls. There’s enough territory to cover on the subject of being a fat teen (regardless of gender) to throw in the additional curve ball that Troy is a fat admirer. It wasn’t necessary to the story.

      And for this story to work, Troy doesn’t have to be a fat kid. He could have had horrible acne or terrible BO like Gordon Crisp or whatever makes him an outsider. For Troy to be able to talk to a pretty girl was a huge step in his life. As a self-loathing fat kid, he didn’t have the confidence to approach a woman he found attractive. But as he gained self-worth, he gained the ability to approach the girl he had a crush on, who happened to be thin.

      This is not sizeist. The fact that Isabel was not fat is not sizeist in the least. Of course there needs to be more films with fat girls as role models, but this does not have to be that movie. This movie wasn’t a Fat Acceptance manifesto. It was a wonderful film that gives a voice to a lot of people, fat, thin, or otherwise.

      And all of this is without even mentioning two scenes from the film, which, if you saw them, you would know this film is kind to fat people:


      1) Toward the end of the film, Troy is looking for help and he knocks on an old friend’s door and says, “Do you know where Isabel is?” and she appears in the door. It’s not definite, but there’s a general vibe that the two may be together. But it’s ambiguous.
      2) At one point on the bus, Troy is sitting quietly and he looks at a fat girl, and the camera watches her for a long moment, then Troy smiles at her. It’s a brief, but potent image.

      So, whoever said anything in this film is sizeist is full of shit, in my opinion. Now, they’re welcome to their shit opinion, but I strongly disagree. Fat Kid is an awesome film and I want people to see it. I can’t wait for it to come out on DVD.

      Trust me. 🙂


  2. violetyoshi permalink
    August 14, 2012 7:52 am

    Oh okay, so fat acceptance is just for the men then? The women will just have to deal with the reality that fat men will still get the thin girl. I guess you wouldn’t be offended in the least if movies kept showing fat girls getting fit thin men all the time, right? You are being sexist Shannon, just admit it.

    Fat women deserve love, and they deserve fat acceptance. Don’t tell me it doesn’t matter at all that men are allowed to be fat to a certain extent, and that women are told you cannot have an ounce of fat on your body. I’m very disappointed in you Shannon. You at suggesting that only thin women should be seen in films romantically, and that is okay. Do you not see that is what you are doing?

    • Kala permalink
      August 14, 2012 9:35 am

      How is this sexist? It’s a story about a male character, it’s a story about a male character written by a woman. Simply because you are a woman, doesn’t make you the sexist police. You know full well that as a woman accusing him of sexism, he doesn’t have much of a leg to stand on in defending himself. As another woman, I completely disagree with you.

      “Don’t tell me it doesn’t matter at all that men are allowed to be fat to a certain extent, and that women are told you cannot have an ounce of fat on your body.”

      “You at suggesting that only thin women should be seen in films romantically”

      He is most certainly not saying these things at all. I think you are projecting many things you dislike on one instance of something that you aren’t liking.

      He’s saying that the film is not a FA manifesto, but it is a fat-friendly film. It’s not going to be so anti-establishment that it’s going to break every stereotype or trope. He accurately points out that it would be a stretch of the imagination that an average teenage boy, in our society, would not only be obese himself, but would also be a fat admirer.

    • August 14, 2012 9:35 am

      You are putting words in my mouth and distorting what I said. I’m not going to argue with you about this. If that’s what you think of me and my work, then you go right ahead. You may as well be making the case that this film is racist because the romantic lead isn’t black or homophobic because the romantic lead isn’t a man.

      As far as whether it would offend me if a film revolved around a fat girl getting a thin man, it’s already being made starring Melissa McCarthy and Jon Hamm. And you know what I think of that? AWESOME! Another fat positive film is being made that doesn’t demean or patronize fat people.

      But if you want to spend your time lamenting what Fat Kid could have been, rather than celebrating what it actually is, be my guest. I found the movie uplifting and encouraging, and would recommend it to EVERYONE.


  3. August 14, 2012 10:01 am

    I would be curious to see what the plot of the McCarthy/Hamm film will be. Will it truly be fat positive or will it be something else. They have tried this before in Hollywood, but audiences are very resistive. The show Mike & Molly has had it’s share of back lash, so did Roseanne, but shows like According to Jim (fat man/thin woman) and Still Standing (again, fat man/thin woman) I never heard any criticism of the fact that one lead was fat and the other thin, but there has been much said about McCarthy playing a romantic lead in her show and look at how they hounded Ricki Lake and Kirstie Alley. I hope, and truly pray that this new movie is as fat positive as Fat Kid sounds like it is. I reserve judgement.

    • August 14, 2012 11:06 am

      I’m the same way, Janet, I’m holding my breath. But the fact that they’re proposing a movie with a fat woman in the lead role with a traditionally handsome male, romantic lead is incredibly reassuring. The proof is in the pudding, as they say. Hopefully, we shall see.


      • thegoddessishtar permalink
        August 14, 2012 11:29 am

        Too true…..I too am encouraged….and hopeful….but the key is finding the audience. See, if a project doesn’t find an audience, similar projects then take the hit in a negative way. Studio execs say, “well, it didn’t sell tickets so it doesn’t have an audience and people don’t want to see a fat woman in a romantic lead.”…stupid executives…I know it’s a business but sometimes, you have to push the envelope a few times to get the audience. Kind of like getting kids to eat their vegetables…what is it, you have to get a kid to try a food 10 times before he will then like/eat that food? So, find a small audience and then build on that. But Hollywood would have us believe that everyone wants to just be like our thinner sisters instead of showing ourselves in a positive light. I’m still hopefull!

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