Sean Clancy on Fat Kid Rules the World

August 26, 2012

By Sean Clancy
Voice in the Wilderness

Fat Kid Rules the World. Quirky title. Comes from a YA novel and now it’s a movie, which maybe you saw if you were one of the few dozen folks who plunked down $10 as part of a Tugg campaign that brought the indie production to Little Rock for a one-night engagement.

If you didn’t see it, well, that’s a pity. You’re gonna want to track it down when it hits one of the post-theater formats because it’s a well-made, well-acted, scrappy little film set in Seattle about a pair of misfit boys, family, drugs and punk rock.

Troy is a lonely, overweight high school student with a dead mother, an overbearing father and a jerky little brother. He’s friendless, and spends his time away from school eating and playing online video games. When we first meet Troy, he’s decided to put an end to his misery by stepping in front of a speeding bus.

His plan is ruined, however, by Marcus, a homeless gutterpunk who drops in an out of school and plays in a band. Marcus attaches himself to Troy, using him for money and a place to stay and announcing to Troy’s father that the pair have started a group in which Troy will play drums. Nevermind that Troy can’t even hold a pair of sticks without hurting himself.

Marcus, with his twitchy, strung-out charisma and non-stop schemes — he tells Troy he has booked a show for the band, though they have never even rehearsed — has given Troy hope that that there is a friendship in this alliance, though Troy remains terrified  at the thought of having to perform before a crowd. Marcus has faith in him, though, and introduces him to the cathartic freedom of punk rock. Of course, Marcus is unreliable and prone to disappearing for days on end. He’s also a thief and, it becomes apparent, a pretty serious drug addict.

Fat Kid … really works for a few reasons:  Jacob Wysocki as Troy is the embodiment of an overweight outcast. He’s all sweaty, red-faced discomfort as his belly pokes from beneath his too-small shirts and the straps of his backpack are strained to the point of almost breaking. Compared to his fit, ex-Marine Dad (played by Billy Campbell) and his jock brother, Troy is a lumbering mess, his bovine eyes revealing a sad resignation.

As Marcus, Matt O’Leary is a sniffling, conniving urchin who nevertheless possesses the kind of charm that makes one want to reach out to him, even though it’s possible you’re going to lose something of value in the process. He’s a present-day Kurt Cobain, supremely talented and determined to destroy himself. O’Leary is remarkably good at making us pull for Marcus, even when we know he might be more harm than good for the trusting and needy Troy.

Director Matthew Lillard, taking his cues from the novel by K.L. Going (who also co-wrote the script), intersperses jarring fantasy scenes seen through Troy’s eyes that range from gory to hilarious to sublime. Lillard also doesn’t pull any punches (until the end, at least. We’ll get to that in a second) when  it comes to dealing with the soul-crushing ravages of Marcus’ habit, showing just how far he will go for a score.

It’s also nice to see the two more one-dimensional characters, Troy’s dad and brother, become more whole in the third act of the film (though please, Billy Campbell, please stop whispering when things get emotional. It’s like watching The Killing all over again, and no one needs that).

Perhaps the end wraps things up a bit too tidily; a few false notes are struck and are more jarring for the fact that the rest of the film is so honest and unflinching. But this shouldn’t be a deterrent, and it certainly doesn’t rob Fat Kid … of its overall impact (we note, too, the sly visual homage toward the end to Cobain’s appearance with Nirvana at the 1992 Reading Festival, when he was pushed onstage in a wheelchair and wearing a hospital gown). It remains a powerful experience and an ode to the power of friendship and the freedom of music.


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