Directed by Matthew Lillard
Based on a book by K.I. Going
Featuring Jacob Wysocki, Matt O'Leary, Billy Campbell, Lili Simmons, Dylan Arnold
Every single one of us is a fat kid.
Sure, you may not actually be an obese teenager, but we've all felt that inherent sense of discomfort and loneliness, the idea that we don't quite fit in or we're being laughed at by the people who we crave acceptance from. Life's hard, and you don't literally have to be the 'fat kid' in the room to know the feeling.
Troy (Wysocki), however, is very much the fat kid; topping out at nearly three hundred pounds and towering a few inches over most of his classmates, he considers himself a waste of space and fantasizes about bloody, merciful death to put himself out of his misery. After deciding to go for it, he plants himself in front of a speeding city bus only to be rescued by Marcus (O'Leary), an unlikely hero--- scrawny, tweaked-out, and unwashed, a manic Marcus shoves him out of the way, then demands money for his action. From this point forward, Marcus ingratiates himself into Troy's life, filling the cracks in his heart with little more than spit and bullshit, but sometimes that's all it takes to start a revolution. Troy is wary at first of giving up his quiet, routine life as a reclusive gamer and good student, but Marcus's popularity and edginess intrigue him and he decides to risk it by agreeing to join a punk band with his new comrade.
What follows is one of the most heartwrenching tales I've seen in years and easily one of the most identifiable for me as well; Troy embarks on a quest of self-discovery and trying to find peace with his lot in life, and what begins as a journey to save Troy from himself changes into a mission to save Marcus from his self-destructive and drug-addled downward spiral. Troy's father (Campbell) is a widowed, disciplined military man who loves his family and takes on Marcus as a sort of stray mongrel, making sure the disowned teenager has a clean, safe place to sleep and food in his stomach. Often overlooked is Troy's younger brother (Arnold), a good student and excellent athlete who tries to win everything to make his father proud. He feels alienated and misunderstood because the very thing he strives for--- personal perfection--- is what makes him overlooked and somewhat invisible in his own life. The final character is Isabel (Simmons), a beautiful and rebellious punk rock girl who loses herself in the local music scene and serves as both a crush and an anchor to Troy as he strives to try to become the kind of guy she'd like to hang out with.
The film has some hilarious moments but is far from a comedy; most of it delves into very dark, very real territory involving self-harm, body image, drug abuse, bullying and the other things that teenagers of all stripes of life have to cope with for that period in their lives. The movie handles these things sensitively but doesn't flinch away from the brutal reality of the situations at hand. Wysocki and O'Leary both shine in their respective roles; Wysocki brings a gentle, self-deprecating humor to Troy while maintaining layers of empathy and the desperate need to belong, the willingness to remain gullible for the sake of continuing a friendship, while O'Leary's hyperactive energy and callous, selfishly inconsistent behavior makes it hard to look away. O'Leary has done stellar work in other projects like Brick, Havoc and Eden and he is probably the most standout performance in the film in a sea of talented portrayals. The audience simultaneously wants to condemn him for his attitude, particularly his manipulation of Troy, as well as root for him and pull for him to get sober and save himself before things are too late.
Director Matthew Lillard is better known, of course, for his acting, the face of everything from Stu in Scream to Steveo in SLC Punk! to a recent turn in The Descendants as a strong supporting role; he has over 40 IMDB credits, all of them in front of the camera. But during the Q&A and interview session following this film, Lillard literally choked back tears as he discussed being an outcast in school, a once-overweight misfit who has turned into the face and voice of a generation of disenfranchised teenagers. He has always prided himself on taking unconventional roles in projects and developing his trademark intensity over the years, and this was his first time to have control in his own hands. He firmly believed in the project from the day in 2003 when a copy was put into his hands, and for nine years he struggled to secure financing and get the film made. It was a labor of desperate love, a man who wanted to provide a sort of SLC Punk! for a younger demographic. This is a movie that will be difficult for video stores to categorize because while it stars young adult actors and is set in the realm of high school, adult themes, violence and drug use will make it something many parents may hesitate to rent for a family movie night. However, the messages come through loud and clear--- be yourself, love yourself, and love each other.