Fat Kid Rules the World certainly isn’t a movie that is sold by its title. Matthew Lillard- who starred in Scream and The Descendents – debuted in the director’s chair for this coming-of-age comedy that follows the fat kid Troy Billings’s (Jacob Wysocki) transformation from a nobody to a somebody when his life is saved by local punk guitarist, Marcus Macrae (Matt O’Leary).
Regardless of Fat Kid being his first film out of the gates as a director, Lillard had a lot of competition to stand up to, with the likes of The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and Richard Ayoade’s superb premier title Submarine in the same playing field, Fat Kid Rules The World couldn’t afford to be much less than spectacular in order to compete with its peers.
Warning Spoilers Throughout!
Unfortunately Fat Kid Rules the World had a handful of pretty serious problems that stopped it from being anything more than a just above average watch. My biggest gripe with the movie was its terribly slow rate of plot progression; the film’s open ending was nothing short of infuriating, and I am still bewildered as to why such little focus was placed on not only the punk music genre, but more importantly Troy’s progression as a musician. In spite of the fact that not a lot physically happened, Troy’s coming-of-age and progression as a character was handled well and prevented Fat Kid from feeling like a total waste of time.
Another bone I have to pick with Fat Kid Rules the World concerns just how hard it tries to be funny on occasions. In the scene where a parallel tracking shot follows Troy as he takes his dinner tray through an assortment of random areas, that culminates with him pencil diving into the deep end of a swimming pool, I felt the references to the influential coming-of-age films Rushmore and Submarine were just a poorly handled, witless nod at the writer’s influences. The sequence simply added nothing to the narrative or my enjoyment of the movie.
Troy’s trailer line – ‘Don’t fuck with the fat kid!’ – is another particularly distinct example of humor gone awry in Fat Kid Rules the World; honestly I wouldn’t call Fat Kid a comedy, watching it with the mindset of it being a drama will leave you far less disappointed with the final product. That said Fat Kid Rules the World isn’t totally void of hilarity. Troy’s first near-performance that ends up making him so anxious he projectile vomits over his drum kit (and some of the audience) was a brilliant little moment, it’s just a shame there wasn’t more of the same.
Negatives aside, Fat Kid Rules the World was still an entertaining, and at times a briefly thought provoking venture too. Billy Campbell’s performance as Mr Billings was phenomenal, it is a crime that neither the BAFTA association or the Academy gave his legendary acting efforts at least some recognition through a nomination for the Best Actor award. Mr Billings gifting of a drum kit to Troy, that most importantly came with placing his trust in Troy to fulfill his responsibility regarding its maintenance, made for a genuinely endearing moment that owes a lot of its emotional impact to the stellar and charming performance dished out by Wysocki.
Troy’s love interest with Isabel (Lili Simmons) pulled off an unexpected, controversial yet effective twist when Troy quickly came to realize and accept that she and his old best friend Manoj (a largely unmemorable character) were already pretty intimate. Had Troy simply gone through the standard ‘comes from nothing, then finds love (and music)’ story archetype, Fat Kid only would have really suffered for it on the whole. Thankfully the writers showed some good sense and decided to opt out of the cliché route, delivering a very welcome, and refreshing surprise.
Fat Kid Rules the World also used Marcus’s character effectively as an embodiment of the problems surrounding narcotics abuse; tactfully showing the gritty nature of drug addiction and the helplessness of those deep into addiction without making the fatal mistake of dehumanizing them. In spite of this, I never really appreciated Matt O’ Leary’s performance as Marcus, at times it felt far too forced and over zealous which definitely broke the immersion at a couple of key points.
The largely functional but disappointingly unimpressive and uninspired technical aspects of Fat Kid Rules the World sadly sealed its fate as little more than your average coming-of-age movie. I just wish movies like this weren’t afraid to show off a little bit of individual and innovative technical/visual style; it’s the only sure fire way to set their selves a way from the pack and avoid being stale and easily forgettable pictures.
Final Grade: C-