SXSW Film Review – Fat Kid Rules the World
It is always nice to see filmmakers who have a passion for a project. There is a certain depth and appreciation for the matter that can be seen on the screen in the final product. After working to get the film made for nine years, you can see the hard work in Matthew Lillard’s directorial debut, Fat Kid Rules the World.
Based on the K.L. Going novel of the same name, Fat Kid Rules the World tells the story of Troy (Jacob Wysocki), who is an outsider in his school, where his weight and geeky hobbies aren’t helping. Things aren’t much better at home, where his relationships with his father and brother are strained since the death of his mother. He is saved from a suicide attempt by dropout musician Marcus (Matt O’Leary), after which an unlikely friendship blooms that changes the lives of both of them.
Fundamentally, Fat Kid Rules the World is a story for people who don’t fit inside a normal box, something I think most people can relate to—being that fish out of water. Matthew Lillard is the perfect person to adapt the story to film, since he thrived during his career as an actor bringing those kinds of characters to life (his work in Hackers, SLC Punk, and Spooner immediately springs to mind). Though he achieved his great financial success working on Scooby-Doo, it is exciting to see the profits from that commercialism being put back into the indie world here.
It could’ve been very easy for Lillard to sell this film based on his acting, but he fully embraced his role as the director, stepping behind the camera and letting the kids be the stars of the movie. Wysocki is incredible in playing a kid who has lost his will to live and finds himself within the punk rock community. The transformation as he comes out of his shell is very fun, and it is his emotional journey that really is the backbone of the movie and helps everyone else succeed. Wysocki’s partner in that trip is O’Leary, who is quickly locking up control of the awkward and dysfunction character arena. Between Natural Selection last year, his work here, and his role in Eden (in which he plays a sex trafficker), it is becoming quickly apparent that he has a tremendous amount of versatility and charisma, and frequently steals a lot of scenes because of it. He’s dominated the indie world the last few years, and it will be intriguing to see how he transitions to the mainstream with his part in The Lone Ranger next year.
Beyond the two leads, it was nice to see Billy Campbell in a positive role, too. I loved him in The Rocketeer when I was a kid, but then he played the villainous husband in Enough so disturbingly that his work in that role was the mental picture that got burned into my mind. His role here is complex and moving, as he plays a military man who is trying to understand his son, come to terms with the death of his wife, and deal with his son’s drug addicted new friend. Besides Troy, he might have the most interesting character arc in the film.
On a personal note, I found it really nice to see the real Seattle displayed on film (and not another city that is labeled Seattle, as in the recent Chronicle, for example). To those who live in the area, many of the locations are instantly recognizable. The Pacific Northwest frequently gets a reputation for being gloomy and rainy, and it is nice to see it portrayed in its true beauty.
Another standout aspect of the movie is the music. When you take on a story that has music as an integral part, it is important that you invest in that side of the production. Lillard was incredibly smart in enlisting the help of Mike McCready of Pearl Jam to help cultivate the punk rock vibe as Troy is swept up in the music scene. Even more interesting is to see that the young stars Wysocki and O’Leary partnered up to write some of the music that they play in the movie.
The film does have flaws. About three-quarters of the way through, the story becomes more focused on Marcus than on Troy, which I didn’t love, and at times things feel a bit stretched out and could possibly be trimmed down. The burgeoning romantic relationship between Lili Simmons’s character and Wysocki’s is intriguing, but it feels a bit underexplored. The film is not quite bold enough to cut out the romantic storyline entirely and neglects it so that her character feels a bit two-dimensional. We end up not really knowing very much about her.
The film has heart, though, and that can help to overcome a lot. It is touching; you care about the characters and can understand where they are coming from, because these are experiences that most people have gone through. And while the end might be a little predictable, it still feels gratifying when you get there.
Final Grade: B+