Monday, July 16, 2012

Fat Kid Rules the World in His Own Way

Matthew Lillard spent a good portion of his acting career in the 90s in memorable youth centred films such as Scream, SLC Punk!, and Hackers. While he has moved onto more mature film roles in recent years, such as The Descendants, it feels rather appropriate that his directorial feature film debut focuses on the complexity of youth. In a time where it seems many of the films geared towards teens are merely selling an image of what teen life should be; Fat Kid Rules the World offers a more realistic look at modern teenage life.

Adapted from the novel by K.L. Going, Fat Kid Rules the World tells the story of Troy Billings (Terri’s Jacob Wysocki), an overweight 17 year-old with suicidal tendencies. An outcast at school, and unable to truly connect with his ex-navy father (Billy Campbell) or his brother Dayle (Dylan Arnold) since his mother’s passing, Troy spends most of his time playing online games in his room. When Troy’s suicide attempt is foiled by Marcus (Frailty’s Matt O’Leary), a local guitarist and high school dropout, an unlikely friendship is formed. Despite never having played the drums before, Troy is invited to be a drummer in a new band Marcus is forming. As both young men attempt to get their band off the ground, they each learn some valuable lessons that will impact both of their lives forever.

The theme of feeling like an outsider only to realize that finding your own path is what is truly important is a timeless one. What makes Fat Kid Rules the World standout is the subtle way it avoids many of the conventions associated with teen films. Troy is clearly at an age where his hormones are raging but there is never that quest to get him laid. Instead Lillard merely incorporates some smartly placed fantasy sequences to emphasize his sexually charge state. In fact, even the way the film handles Troy’s love interest, Isobel (Lili Simmons), is rather unique. Despite showing the growing connection between Troy and Isobel, the actual possibility of a true romantic connection is left ambiguous.

The fact that Lillard trusts the audience enough not to spell out every single detail is what makes Fat Kid Rules the World such a satisfying film to both teens and adults. Though there are brief moments of visual flare, most notably in the fantasy sequences, most of Lillard’s strength as a director is shown in the way he handles his actors. Lillard gives his leads room to flourish and carry the film. Jacob Wysocki is fantastic in the role of Troy. He manages to maintain aspects of Troy’s insecurities even when we see Troy’s overall confidence growing. Although O’Leary has the flashier role of the two, he wisely controls his performance enough as to not upstage Wysocki at any point. The natural chemistry of the two men makes it easy for the audience to believe that Troy and Marcus would bond over punk music.

While Wysocki and O’Leary are the focal points of the film, it should be noted that Billy Campbell provides one of his best performances in years as Troy’s father. Too often the parents in teen films are either non-existent or played up to one extreme or another (e.g. too strict, too aloof, etc.). To be honest, it is easy to expect the latter when it is revealed that Mr. Billings used to serve in the Navy. However, Campbell’s take on Mr. Billings is a more grounded portrayal. While he does have that tough military edge, Mr. Billings shows an honest interest in his sons lives. He struggles to find common ground with them while never losing site of his responsibilities as a parent. The way he interacts with Marcus will have the audience thinking “yep, that is exactly how my dad would have reacted.”

Though an immensely enjoyable film, Fat Kid Rules the World is not without its flaws. The most notable one is how Marcus’ drug addiction is handled in the latter half of the film. At times it feels as if his storyline overshadows Troy’s arc. This does the film a bit of a disservice as Marcus’ tale is the most predictable of all the characters in the film. A little less focus on Marcus in the latter half would have allowed Lillard to flesh out the sibling dynamics between Troy and Dayle in greater detail. Also, the character of Isobel could have been explored in greater detail as well. Despite these flaws Fat Kid Rules the World is still a film that should be seen. It is a directorial debut that shows Lillard has a promising second career ahead of him behind the camera. The timeless themes mixed with the strong performances make Fat Kid Rules the World a film that will appeal to all of us who have felt, or are currently feeling, like we did not belong at some point during our youth.

After successful runs at the SXSW Festival and the TIFF Next Wave Film Festival, Fat Kid Rules the World is screening daily at the Projection Booth until Thursday at 2:30 pm and 7 pm .


  1. Very good review. I'm very interested in seeing this. Lillard as a director? Sold.

    1. I am very eager to see what Lillard’s next directorial work will be? He is a talent that I will be keeping a close eye on.


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