Actor Matthew Lillard’s apparently been sitting on the rights to film K.L. Going’s 2003 novel for around 9 years, and the combination of patience, steady paychecks, and working with a variety of directors paid off very well in this atypical take on the ill-fitting teen who wanders through high school in a daze.
Troy (Jacob Wysocki) is indeed a fat kid, and just as he’d about to step forward to kill himself by commuter bus, punk guitarist Marcus (Matt O’Leary) tackles him to the ground, saving his life but charging $20 for the service. Marcus becomes a best friend/fly in Troy’s ointment, constantly invading his personal space & fridge which Troy could stop, but seeing how his new friend is regarded as a cool rebel and has hot groupies, he reconsiders and starts a peculiar friendship which is supposed to culminate in a two-man punk band project. Troy, however, can’t play an instrument, but his father buys him a drum set, and the film slowly moves towards the band’s first proper debut.
Fat Kid’s secondary characters are integral to Troy’s background and ongoing state as a pretty grounded and decent kid, and what distinguishes the film from the other awkward teen comedy-dramas is how the screenwriters and director Lillard never give in to clichés. Marcus is a tragic figure – he’s sort of talented, but mostly a disturbed drug addict always looking for a solid fix – but he’s vital to the needed cathartic collision between Troy, his younger brother Dayle (Dyland Arnold), and father (Billy Campbell) that allows the Billings family to finally grieve over their dead maternal figure.
Scenes that should glide into maudlin terrain take swift right turns, and clichéd dialogue exchanges are replaced by little quiet scenes played by a very able cast of relative newcomers. The only character that’s a bit tough to grasp is Troy’s father – he seems too supportive of Marcus, who represents a total corruption of the household order he’s preserved since his wife’s death – but there are enough small scenes that make his support plausible.
Lillard also avoids clichéd cutaways – the repeated sad face close-ups and depressing music stings designed to force audiences to cry – and montages that tend to exist to pad a film’s running time. It’s a lean script that expertly sidesteps standard clichés, including the final concert which we never actually see because the relationships are what’s relevant, not music numbers interpolated to sell a soundtrack CD.
There are shades of SLC Punk [M] (1998) in Fat Kid, a film where Lillard proved his own skills as a lead actor but also established the parameters of the eccentric rebel kid / weird guy he’d play for the next 10 years. O’Leary seems to have been directed to mimic some of Lillard’s performance quirks, but they work for Marcus; you just know, however, that had Lillard been 20 years younger, he’d be the one playing Marcus.
It’s an assured directorial debut (and a film not easy to classify), but in classic indie fashion, Fat Kid exceeds the awkward kid dramas cranked out by the studios. Easily a minor genre classic.
© 2012 Mark R. Hasan