Hello ladies and gentlemen, Muldoon here from the heart of SXSW. I just got out of a packed screening of FAT KID RULES THE WORLD, directed by none other than Mathew Lillard. Having just left the screening about an hour ago, I'm still confused as hell in the best way possible: Shaggy made a damn solid film!
Head's Up - I'm not going to give a play by play of the film, just honest thoughts. Here's what SXSW sums the film's plot up as:
"Troy Billings is seventeen, overweight, and suicidal. Just as he's about to jump in front of a bus, he's saved by Marcus, a charming high school dropout/street musician. The two begin an uneasy friendship when Marcus enlists the musically challenged Troy to become the drummer in a new punk rock band. As Troy’s relationship with Marcus grows, Troy's father becomes increasingly concerned about his son's new friendship."
We've all seen it before when an actor steps behind the lens and tries their hand at corralling great performances from their actors/keeping a solid pace/telling a good story. Lillard does that and then some. The film handles some rather intense themes that could have easily blown up in a lesser filmmaker's face, so I guess the guy's picked up a thing or two. On that note, the film's central cast is made up of Matt O'Leary (The bad kid from SPY KIDS 2/FRAILTY), Billy Campbell (The hardass from THE KILLING), and Jacob Wysocki (*TERRI, but after this I'm sure he'll be in a hell of a lot) and couldn't be stronger.
The film kicks off with Jacob's character, "Troy," an overweight high schooler, stepping out in front of a bus to end it all. In swoops O'Leary's character "Marcus" like a junky Spider Man to yank Troy to safety. Bam! A friendship begins, but not in your typical "crazy high school pals" type way, but in kind of headscratching way where something feels off. What exactly is off is why Marcus seems to want to hang out with Troy and Troy/the audience struggle to understand why, but are constantly charmed to Marcus's world.
The film's chock full of little comedic cuttaways (think A CHRISTMAS STORY), so we are treated with the "what would happen if" moments and honestly they're all pretty damn hilarious. While shows like FAMILY GUY and AMERICAN DAD might have numbed that entire approach into the ground, something here seems fresh and never once felt forced. Stylistically the film's shot clean and utilizes all sorts of amazing locations in and around Seattle.
Okay, so we've got silly semi dream sequences and pretty shots from around a gorgeous city, so what? As it were, those little nuggets are the sprinkles of the cupcake that is the drama brought on from Matt O'Leary's junky of a character. Seriously, whenever I've heard the guy's name in the past, I'd think "The kid from FRAILTY?" now it might be "Oh yeah, that dude from FAT KID RULES." O'Leary's Marcus is so frustratingly spot on. You just want to take him by the shoulders and shake him, like "Why are you fucking up so much?!?" Anyone who's known or had a loved one hooked on something knows how sincerely spot on this kid's performance is. While the film's protagonist certainly is Troy, Marcus's constant interjections into Troy's life are were the story lies.
Sure Marcus's problems with drugs are the obvious issue and are on the forefront, but Troy's also got an addiction: food. The two are paralled in an oddly subtle way with (Troy's dad) Billy Campbell's character kind of connecting the two. Troy has to hide his junk food eating ways from his ex-military dad who occasionally forces him to either play basketball with him or run laps at the park in hopes of getting him skinnier/healthier and then later in the film [without giving anything away] Campbell is also there for Marcus, just in a more obvious (paraphrased) "Get your ass into rehab" kind of loving way. Campbell is kind of the perfect dad, the T-1000 of pops. I might be in the minority there, but as a single father - the guy does what he can to make sure his kids grow up to be mannered and respectable men, that's why when Marcus enters the picture it's such a wrench in Campbell's spokes - he can't help but try to help out Marcus (when most parent's would leave it at "I don't want you talking to that kid.") Campbell's poppa bear badassness is incredibly endearing and just works.
So yeah, I'm taken aback at how much I liked the flick. Go check it out if and when you can. It's oddly beautiful and the fact that Lillard was the guy who brought it to screen leaves me confused in the best way possible. I guess you can't really judge a book by it's cover. I'm all for seeing what he (and everyone else in the film honestly) comes out with next.
- Mike McCutchen
TL; DR - The movie really is damn good. Thumb's Up. 8/10. Fresh Tomato. Etc...