Home Video Hovel- Fat Kid Rules the World, by Aaron Pinkston
Fat Kid Rules the World isn’t an exceptional comedy or drama. It might not make you laugh uncontrollably or make you cry. But that’s OK — as Tyler Smith said in his review of the film, “not every film is meant to blow our minds.” It also unfortunately digs itself a hole by being in a pretty standard, well-worn genre, following the underdog, overweight high school kid to his rise to popularity (or at least some raised self-esteem). Despite these great odds, though, Fat Kid Rules the World does stand out, thanks to something a little unexpected. Throughout this review I’m going to return to a specific word a few times: authenticity.
As with most actor-turned-director pictures, Fat Kid Rules the World is definitely an “actor’s film,” showcasing talented actors in an unspectacular film, letting them play the small moments sincerely. The film unites two up-and-coming young actors who on paper seem like a perfect match (luckily, this plays out in the film, as well). Jacob Wysocki (Terri) and Matt O’Leary (Brick, Natural Selection) play an odd pair of underdog friends — Wysocki is the shy, overweight push-over while O’Leary is the brash, drug-riddled drop-out. Fat Kid Rules the World is their film, and you will probably enjoy this film if you enjoy these two actors.
The real heart of the film, though, lies in an atypical character. Billy Campbell plays Troy’s father, a character often integral to the genre, but usually grossly stereotypical. A former Marine and current police officer, the character is designed to be the complete opposite of Troy — self-controlled, physically fit, disciplined. Normally in this genre, the father character’s only mission is to be a foil for the main character, putting him down and pointing out his weaknesses, but not in a productive way. Troy’s father is a hard ass, but multi-dimensional, like a real-life person. Though he is tough on Troy, you can see how much he loves him, how sad he is for letting him go astray after the death of his wife. He also sees the potential in Troy and does whatever he can to make sure he fulfills it. The most touching scene of the film, when Troy’s father buys him a drum kit, is underplayed perfectly. Knowing that Troy is a good kid that will ultimately make good choices, he allows him to explore, take chances. Usually this character type doesn’t get any honest treatment, and Fat Kid Rules the World benefits tremendously from the character and Billy Campbell’s performance. Troy’s father isn’t a perfect man, but that’s for the better. More importantly, he’s an unexpectedly great father.
I also appreciated the fluidity of high school society that Fat Kid Rules the World shows, which feels much more authentic than what we see in the typical film from this genre. Troy and Marcus are certainly misfits, but they aren’t treated as unlikeable — and Lillard gives them the respect they deserve. Marcus, in fact, seems like a pretty popular figure in the community, mostly due to his punk rock band. It is known that Troy doesn’t have any friends, but the film doesn’t shove scene after scene of him getting picked on, pushed into lockers, generally messed with. He seems to get along like most high school outsiders do, fairly invisibly. At the other side of the spectrum, Troy’s brother Dayle is a jock (as indicated by the impressive collection of trophies he has lined up in his bedroom), but he isn’t impressively cool. This may seem like a small point, but it is indicative of the authenticity of the film and how it treats it treats its characters as real people.
One more integral part needs to come together for Fat Kid Rules the World to work: the music. We see a lot of movies where young people come together and find themselves and their place through making music; again, that’s not new here. Luckily, the music is written and the film is scored by Mike McCready, the lead guitarist for a little rock-n-roll outfit called Pearl Jam. The punk music made by Marcus and Troy feels like punk music — I’m not going to say it is particularly good music (depending on your tastes, I guess), but it feels like the kind of music strung-out, angry teenagers make in their garages and basements all the time. It’s loud, messy, but passionately delivered. Like everything else about Fat Kid Rules the World, it is authentic to its characters.
Included on the bare-bones DVD release of Fat Kid Rules the World are five unnamed behind-the-scenes featurettes ranging from deleted scenes to crew interviews, each spanning a minute or two. They don’t add anything to the film, but give us a little more screen-time to the actors playing music, having fun on camera. One of the featurettes shows director Matthew Lillard as the school’s guidance counselor, in a scene (appropriately) cut from the film. In an extended take of Matt O’Leary playing guitar on the street near his lowest point in the film, without production, shows off his talent — the music might not be too attractive, but he pulls it off well.