Title: Fat Kid Rules the World
Director: Matthew Lillard
Starring: Jacob Wysocki, Matt O’Leary, Billy Campbell, Lilli Simmons
A sweet-natured and loose-limbed coming-of-age tale that delivers by way of its smart, sympathetic performances and an accumulation of telling details, actor Matthew Lillard’s directorial debut, “Fat Kid Rules the World,” tells a simple and familiar story, but one with not inconsiderable emotional purchase.
Sad-sack Seattle seventeen-year-old Troy Billings (Jacob Wysocki, of “Terri”) is overweight and suicidal — seemingly always at odds with his brother and emotionally conflicted ex-Marine father (Billy Campbell, delivering fine work). After Troy is saved from his darker impulses by Marcus (Matt O’Leary, of “Natural Selection”), a scruffy, talkative high school dropout and would-be musician, the two outcasts strike up an unlikely friendship. Despite the fact that Troy’s a complete musical novice, Marcus taps him to be his drummer in a new punk band, which helps Troy’s self-esteem blossom but also further complicates his relationship with his dad.
“Fat Kid Rules the World” definitely benefits from author K.L. Going’s award-winning source material — it feels rooted in the ways that only adaptations usually are — and Lillard has an obvious, in-the-bones affinity for his characters. And while it leans toward comedy, the movie locates an endearing sweet spot between uplift and melancholy, in a manner not unlike Abe Sylvia’s “Dirty Girl,” which also threw together two misfit characters. It’s frank about adolescence, and doesn’t try to sugarcoat the difficulties of growing up different (fat, or poor), and in less than ideal circumstances. Yet it also doesn’t dwell solely and myopically upon humiliation. It also allows for bursts of daydream fantasy from Troy, which give the movie a wider perspective.
The result is a movie of considerably rich, if familiar, feeling. Wysocki and O’Leary have a nice rapport. The former sometimes errs on the side of underplaying these, but is always emotionally on point and in the moment. O’Leary, meanwhile, has a wild, caffeinated energy, but also captures the say-anything, weather vane loquaciousness of a natural-born bullshitter. Peas in a pod these guys are not. Yet Lillard’s movie reminds viewers that the world is richer for all our differences.
Written by: Brent Simon