Wednesday, 9 May 2012

FAT KID RULES THE WORLD - Review By Greg Klymkiw - This funny, joyous and moving new comedy directed by Matthew Lillard focusing on teen obesity continues its run at Toronto's Coolest independent theatre, The Projection Booth

Fat Kid Rules The World (2012) dir. Matthew Lillard


Starring: Jacob Wysocki, Matt O'Leary, Billy Campbell, Dylan Arnold

Review By Greg Klymkiw

In America, 9 million children are obese. In Canada, one in four children are obese.

The vast majority of these North American children will remain obese and continue to make significant exponential weight gains into adolescence. The majority of these kids will carry extra poundage and make even more significant weight gains as adults.

Obesity costs the health care systems in North America over $100 billion dollars annually. It is a horrible disease that leads to a myriad of ailments, conditions and death. Maybe worst of all is the living death that comes from an utter lack of self-esteem - especially in adolescents.

I know.

Before the age of eight, I was rail-thin and active. In spite of my athletic prowess, I hated physical activity because it always seemed to get in the way of the thing I loved more than anything - movies.

I also discovered cheeseburgers.

I can remember the turning point as if it were yesterday. At age seven, during a sweltering July, my Mom picked up my little sister and I from a swimming lesson at the YMCA in north-end Winnipeg.

Mom took us to a glorious (now-long-gone) greasy spoon at the corner of McGregor and Mountain called the "Hi-Spot" where we pulled cold, wet bottles of Snow White cream soda from the huge red cooler near the counter - the stools populated by phlegm-hacking old Ukrainian men reading Racing Forms and smoking cigarettes. Transit Tom, as per usual in Winnipeg, was late.

Nothing like waiting at a bus stop populated by stunted, babushka-clad old ladies clutching shopping bags whilst we sucked back nice carbonated refreshers to greet the hot prairie sun hanging in the ocean-blue cloudless sky.

Tacked to the wood-paneled walls of the "Hi-Spot" was a huge colour poster of a hamburger delectably topped with melted orange-coloured cheese. I'd had hamburgers before, but this was something altogether new to my eyes and I longed to introduce it to my burgeoning palate.

I remember my mother refusing my request for this tempting comestible on the grounds that the restaurant itself was "unsanitary". She promised, however, to cook one up at home. When it happened a day or so later, I was hooked. In fact, my first cheeseburger was actually a patty of ground beef topped with globs of Kraft Cheese Whiz.

Later that year, McDonald's finally made its way to north-end Winnipeg. My best friend Ricky Klein and his family were headed there. They kindly invited me along. The parking lot was double and triple parked so Mr. Klein deposited his station wagon down the block and we made our pilgrimage to the Golden Arches - trudging like Scott of the Antarctic through deep snow and bitter prairie cold. Our goal was surely as precious to us as the South Pole had been for Scott.

The restaurant was full of eager Ukrainian and Jewish families from the neighbourhood, squeezed together in mutual sardine-like anticipation. I couldn't see anything at the front counter, just a sea of parka-adorned bodies - but when the family before us eventually squeezed their way out, it was not unlike the parting of the Red Sea (or, take your pick, like the clouds at the Pearly Gates as Jesus Christ beckoned us to enter).

"What'll you have?" asked Mr. Klein.

"A cheesburger!" I blurted immediately.

"No!" cautioned Ricky. "Get a Bic Mac! That's what I'm having."

So, two-all-beef-patties-special-sauce-lettuce-cheese-pickles-onions-on-a-sesame-seed-bun later, I was well on my way to corpulence. Inactivity and cheeseburgers (along with a rapidly developing taste for Old Dutch potato chips, kishka, garlic sausage and varenyky smothered in butter and bacon fat) led to becoming "pleasantly plump", "husky", "porcine" and eventually, "circus freak".

Over a period of thirty-plus-years, I did lose thousands upon thousands of pounds.

I've been fat, lean and everything in between. At present, with the invaluable assistance of bariatric surgery I've melted off 300 pounds in 3 years and have a mere 100 to go. Never has a lifestyle change been more productive and pain-free.

Still, fat pigs - no matter how thin and healthy they get - always think of themselves as fat pigs. The psychological effects of obesity are overwhelming.

For kids, it's even worse.

Upon seeing Fat Kid Rules The World, Matthew Lillard's lovely film from the fine screenplay by Michael M.B. Galvin and Peter Speakman, I was completely gobsmacked by how honest and real its portrait of teen obesity was. On every level, the film indelibly captures both the bittersweet and dark humour associated with the pain and horror of what it's like to be a fat kid. Most importantly, it tells an inspiring and genuinely realistic story of how a fat kid not only gains the acceptance of peers, but to respect the inner qualities beneath the mounds of lard and flesh.

That the film also touches upon themes of friendship, loyalty and the importance of family is a mega-bonus.

That the film offers punk rock as a creative outlet for the main character to develop a greater sense of self-worth is several extra scoops of hot fudge marshmallow sauce on the cinematic ice cream sundae that is Fat Kid Rules The World.

Oh, and a few cheeseburgers, of course.

Troy (Jacob Wysocki) is a poker-faced fat kid with no friends - save for those he knows via cyber-world avatars as he plays endless hours of online shooter games. His single Dad (Billy Campbell) is an ex-Marine who values athletic prowess and lavishes most of his attention upon Troy's younger brother Dayle (Dylan Arnold).

The kid's not really asking for much out of life, but life keeps tossing wads of shit in his face. Troy pines to attend the prom with the prettiest girl in school. His gym teacher finds every excuse under the sun to inflict physical activity/torture upon him. He sweats. He shuffles. He wheezes. He's picked on. He's laughed at. He's the target of every derisive prejudicial assumption both kids and adults have about obesity. He imagines, finally, a better world for all concerned - including himself - if he commits suicide.

Alas, Troy can't even kill himself properly. Stepping in front of a bus, he's rescued by Marcus (Matt O'Leary), a charming, inveterate bad boy who's been suspended from the same school our portly protagonist attends. Friendship is not too far behind - especially since Marcus suggests Troy be the drummer in his new punk band. Troy, however, doesn't know how to play drums. Marcus laughs this off. It's punk, after all. He also has friends in high places. A local bar owner Marcus knows is a former master drummer and Troy exchanges his janitorial services for lessons.

Conflict ensues when Troy gets really good, but Marcus begins to spiral downwards with his own sense of self-worth. Friendship, family and commitment must rule the day, but in life (and even in the movies), nothing is ever an easy-fix.

Fat Kid Rules The World is, without question, one of the most entertaining and heartfelt American films I've seen in quite some time. Lillard's direction is firm and he really has a knack for composing and capturing the film's mix of deadpan and dark comedy, yet balancing this with the movie's heavy-hitting combination of sentiment and humanity. Lillard also inspires a perfect cast - especially the brilliant Jacob Wysocki (Terri) as Troy. Wysocki's got a great hangdog mug, terrific comic timing and a formidable sense of restraint.

Galvin and Speakman's fabulous writing is never given short-shrift by Lillard. His stylistic flourishes are always subtle and as such, allows the depth of character and superb dialogue to breath and pulsate with life. The various turns in the story offer a great deal of surprise and as I alluded to earlier, none of the challenges come without a fight - we're always involved and transfixed with the journey of Troy and those around him.

And though it soon becomes clear that the film is building to a triumphant finish, the screenplay peppers the action with numerous life-like details that always root us in reality - the reality of acceptance and most of all, the reality that life is never perfect, but that we grasp and hold on to those things that best reflect the infinite joy and wonder of the world.

Importantly, the film MUST be seen by as many people as possible - teens, adults and educators. Obesity - especially in kids - is a horrific disease, yet it's so often looked upon by the majority of the population as some sort of weakness in the individuals afflicted with it. Save perhaps for alcoholism, obesity is the only medical condition to have not benefitted by the changing attitudes inspired by the non-facist aspects of political correctness.

Those afflicted with obesity require compassion, understanding, love, friendship and a helping hand.

Not prejudice.

Here's hoping Fat Kid Rules The World is a hit.

A real hit!

It not only deserves it, but so too do movie audiences of all ages and tastes.

The picture is first-rate entertainment, but it is endowed with a special gift - one that could actually change the world. Movies like that don't come along everyday, so don't miss this one.

"Fat Kid Rules The World" continues its theatrical run at Toronto's coolest indie movie house The Projection Booth on Gerrard Street East, just south of India Town. For information and showtimes, visit the Projection Booth website HERE. MISS THIS AT YOUR PERIL.

"Fat Kid Rules The World" had its Canadian premiere at the inaugural edition of the TIFF Next Wave film festival at TIFF Bell Lightbox.