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Fat Kid Rules the World (and my heart, too)

My movie-induced narcolepsy has frustrated my movie fanatic fiancée, Ba.D., for years.

I seldom actively try to fall asleep. It’s just that movies were for so long my bedtime lullaby, it’s hard for me to appreciate them as anything more.

Once in a while I find a movie it’s impossible for me to sleep through. More rarely, I find a movie that not only holds my wakeful attention for two hours but invigorates me even after its credits have wrapped.

Fat Kid Rules the World  is such a movie. The script didn’t so much whisper as sing through its actors.

“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.”Official synopsis

Photo used with permission

“Fat Kid” Troy (Jacob Wysocki) immediately won both my heart and my full attention. I would have stayed awake for two hours simply to watch him go through the motions of his life. And yet, each of the actors in this amazing cast held their weight not only collectively but alone. Through their words and silences alike, these actors created living characters who didn’t so much feel real as really exist. At the movie’s close, I knew and loved each of them.

It would be impossible for me to pinpoint any one thing that sold me on Fat Kid Rules the World. There were so many that shone: its relationships, its lighting, its locations, its humor, its tenderness. Its magic was not in any one piece but in many beautiful pieces moving together in perfect synchronicity; indeed, when asked what he loved most about the movie, Ba.D. waxed effusive until I cut him off at fourteen minutes. (I know it was fourteen minutes because I recorded him in the hopes I could post his response here.)

Like me, he found it impossible to choose any one part of the film more perfect than another. Still, I gave him a second chance, asking him to describe his favorite thing about the movie “in one to two minutes.” After four minutes, I told him to wrap it up. After five minutes, I stopped the recording and asked if we should try one more time.  He said we should.

That recording ran three minutes but felt insubstantial compared to the others. For indeed, how can you possibly say only, “This is cinematic perfection” when the rush of that cinematic perfection is still coursing through your veins?

Shockingly, the film has had a hard time finding its distribution groove. In a discussion following the screening, Ba.D. and I learned about the trouble with selling “a movie about a fat kid.”

Ba.D. had a lot to say about that as we drove home, shaking a verbal fist at Hollywood for trying to stick to movies easily boiled down to two- and three-word catchphrases. The movie, he said, would have virtually distributed itself in the era that brought us movies like Heathers, Pump up the Volume and The Breakfast Club.

The Breakfast Club analogy resonated with me.

At its most basic level, Fat Kid Rules the World is about a fat kid. The Breakfast Club is about a group of kids stuck in detention.

But is detention what you think of when The Breakfast Club’s “Don’t You Forget About Me” comes on the radio? Or do you grin as you sing along and remember the unlikely kinship that grew between its dissimilar protagonists?

Fat Kid Rules the World isn’t just about a fat kid. It’s about grief, friendship, anger, transformation, punk rock, and the unlikely kinship that builds between people who only seem unalike at the most superficial of levels.

There aren’t many showings of this movie scheduled yet. Check here to see if one is in or near your town. If one isn’t in your town, please request it by following the request link at the bottom of that page. It’s a little work, to be sure, but great things are worth the work, and Fat Kid Rules the World isn’t just great. It’s incredible.

Next time I see director Matthew Lillard’s name, you won’t hear me saying, as I did a few days ago, “Oh, hey, it’s one of those kids from Scream!”

Nope. Next time, I’m more likely to say, “Yeah! That’s the guy whose vision made Fat Kid Rules the World come to life on the screen!”

Photo used with permission

I’m not a movie reviewer. I’m barely a movie watcher. It’s hard for me to find the right parting words to show how much this film rocked me. Instead of the right words, then, I leave you with the ones I uttered after I stopped cheering when the movie ended:

I love this movie so much, I just want to kiss it. I don’t even know how I’d do that, but I want to make out with the entire movie. So much.

(For the record, I still do.)

Waitress, I’d like to return my Katniss and get a Sophia instead

Tell someone you don’t like The Hunger Games. Seriously, try it. Turn to the person sitting next to you and say, “I don’t like The Hunger Games.” Humor me and do this even if you want to make sweet love to the trilogy and spoon it for hours afterward.

Be prepared to cower, for if your experience is anything like mine, laser-beam vision will be turned upon you as you’re proclaimed certifiably insane. You’ll wonder if your tongue didn’t slip so that you accidentally said, “Yo, dude. I pretty much hate your mom.”

I don’t care for Katniss Everdeen. I didn’t like what I read of The Hunger Games.

I wanted to. I really did. In the end, I only managed to force myself through 100 pages of the second book before I cast it aside and emailed a friend for her recommendations on YA books I’d actually enjoy. (Happily, she was kind enough not to do Elliot Reid’sI told you so” dance, though she likely very much wanted to.)

How could I not like The Hunger Games?

For me, it’s this simple: I’m the survivor of a very difficult childhood. Almost the entirety of my early life was spent surrounded by people–family and otherwise–who were also focused simply and purely on trying to survive. Forget about trips to Europe, or even an hour away to the coast. The folks around me were trying to keep a roof over their heads, food on their tables, and, in many cases, their violent and/or crazy exes from hurting or killing them or their children. They weren’t strong simply because they survived. They were strong because, despite their hardships, they found the magic in ordinary moments. They laughed and loved despite those hardships.

When I wrote my autobiography for NaNoWriMo several years ago, I laid down what I thought was an accurate accounting of my childhood. I was surprised when my sisters asked me, “Where’s the good stuff?”

“What do you mean, where’s the good stuff?”

“Like, the stuff like your telling us stories about all the magical things that could be if we made it through childhood. Making us laugh with your silly impersonations. Helping us dream. Where’s the good stuff about you?”

[silence]

Katniss isn’t me as a teen. She’s how I remember myself as a teen. She’s caustic, unsympathetic, and driven to survive because–like those around her, and those around me as I grew up–living creatures are instinctively driven toward survival. You wouldn’t be here reading this if your ancestors hadn’t made it through some undoubtedly crummy circumstances because of this very drive to survive.

What’s missing from The Hunger Games are the things that make Katniss someone I’d want as a friend. They’re the good things my sisters remember about me as a teen. One or two throwaway efforts to show Katniss isn’t a robot aren’t enough to make me care for her. It’s not that actively I want her to die, though I don’t care enough to stick around and figure out whether she does. It’s always a good thing when people find the courage to survive.

It’s just a millionfold more interesting to me when they find the strength to go beyond merely surviving and actually live. You can’t always change crummy situations. But you can find and appreciate the grace in passing moments, and in the love of the people who are in the struggle with you.

The Hunger Games is an interesting premise. In the end, it wasn’t interesting enough for me to overcome the fact I didn’t care about its unidimensional protagonist. “Will to survive” isn’t strength, in my book. It isn’t a rockin’ or unique character trait. It’s biologically predetermined.

It’s what a person does beyond just getting by that makes her strong, and interesting to me. Life Is Beautiful, anyone? The Glass Castle?

In the end, I’d much rather have read a story about Sophia FitzOsborne trying to survive The Hunger Games to protect her younger sister, Henry. Sophia may wear dresses, but unlike Katniss, she’s determined to live, not merely survive one more “meh” day. She’s both charming and captivating as she shows the indomitable spirit of a true survivor. That’s what I want to see in my entertainment: who a person is beyond her base survival instinct.

I’m not trying to change your mind. I totally understand why you’d be captivated by Katniss’ tale of survival, even though I don’t share your enthusiasm. It’s just that, having been there and done that in the mundanity of this world’s poverty and hardship, it’s not what I’m looking for in my entertainment.

And for the record? I don’t hate your mom.

Note:
This was among posts accidentally deleted from this blog.
Reposted 6/20/15

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