(ACR Entertainment/Whitewater Films) Those who are familiar with Matthew Lillard may comment on his comedic turns in Scream or Scooby Doo, but dig deeper and you’ll find strong, nuanced performances in SLC Punk and the more recent The Descendents. Lillard’s grip on the disillusioned youth and the immeasurable weight of loneliness clearly groomed him for his directorial debut, Fat Kid Rules the World.
Based on a young adult novel from 2003, Fat Kid Rules the World focuses on Troy (Jacob Wysocki), a morbidly obese teen, whose cut-away dreams about to an intangible, beautiful death. As he sleepwalks through high school, his life is punctuated by an invisibility that is only broken by being slammed into lockers and publicly humiliated.
Drug addled teen punk rocker Marcus (Matt O’Leary) is the wrench in Troy’s plans to off himself. A grimy dropout and thief, Marcus manages to infuse a little bit of chaos into Troy’s quiet existence. A rebellious fire burning just below the surface ignites when Marcus wheedles his way into his life and introduces him to punk rock.
You may recognize Wysocki from Terri or Huge. As Troy, the young actor does not allow mere uncomfortable sympathy from his audience. He demands that you sit up and take notice that he’s a teenage boy like any other – furious, restless, and desperate for a peek down some girl’s blouse. His fantasies, sporadically interjected in the story by Lillard’s deft hand, make him more than just some pathetic, fleshy depressive, and it keeps the story from derailing into TV-movie territory.
Fat Kid is also aided by its supporting performances, and not just by its quietly fuming lead. O’Leary has been seen in Frailty, Brick, and Cinema Verite, but this is the first time we’ve witnessed such a physicality in his role. From tossing himself around the stage to nervous ticks, O’Leary portrays the wild teen tinged with sadness, but only just enough. His bravado and fearlessness rarely waver, even as his wiry body starts to waste away. Also notable is Billy Campbell as Troy’s widowed dad. In these rebellious teen romps, parents are usually one-note characters used to chastise and imprison, but Campbell makes the tough father figure more than just a stereotype.
What could easily come across as trite in Fat Kid Rules the World is instead understated and disarming. The film is a labor of love for first-time director Lillard, who has been chasing the adaptation since he read for the audio-book nine years ago. The micro budget film was funded by Kickstarter and is currently touring with the Warped Tour. This pet project is fueled by passion, and that is readily apparent by Lillard's subtle tone in a movie about angry teens and punk rock.
Troy’s story is for the lost ones, the outsiders, the ones who fantasize about their own demise. With an exhilarating score by Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready, and thoughtful direction, Fat Kid Rules the World is a tremendous first film by Matthew LIllard. Keep a sharp eye for what’s next.
For Fans Of: SLC Punk, Terri, Matthew Lillard, Vans Warped Tour
Why We Like It: Raw look at depressed teens, impressive directorial debut, fun punk film score