Punked Up: Lillard’s Passion Project a Worthwhile Effort
Matthew Lillard, that 1990s alternative screen teen utilized to great effect by John Waters, Wes Craven, and in the cult classic SLC Punk! (1998), who’s all grown up now and peppering fare like The Descendents (2011) and Trouble With the Curve (2012) at last unveils his directorial debut, Fat Kid Rules the World, an effort nine years in the making. Based on the 2003 novel by K.L. Going, Lillard proves himself to be a worthy talent behind the camera. What may be lacking in narrative originality and cinematic aesthetic is more than made up for by his ability to capture three performances that carry this film.
Troy (Jacob Wysocki) is an overweight teenager without any friends, his only outlet on online gaming universe. His relationship with his ex-Marine dad, (Billy Campbell) and younger brother Dayle (Dylan Arnold) has been strained since the death of his mother, which also led to his weight gain. Often having colorful daydreams revolving around sex or death, Troy decides to act on one of his fantasies by stepping in front of a bus. He is saved at the last minute by Marcus (Matt O’Leary), a scrappy, troubled classmate that knocks Troy out of the way. Demanding payment for his help, Marcus ropes Troy into being the drummer for a new band he’s trying to develop since he has a current love/hate relationship with his current band mates. As Troy gets to know the chaotic Marcus, he discovers his new friend has a drug problem, and also, no place to live. Troy’s disapproving father is torn between allowing his son to have a friend like Marcus while also understanding that his son is in need of building a friendship. Troy, an isolated loner, discovers a thrilling excitement in learning how to play drums and he soon starts coming out of his shell. But it’s not long before he realizes that Marcus may need some serious help from him as well.
While the actual film looks about as dynamic as a made for television cheapie, the film features some great original music from Mike McReady of Pearl Jam, which, as Troy becomes more enmeshed in the punk rock scene, only starts to get more blissfully enjoyable. Lillard manages to keep an overall buoyant tone to the proceedings, even though we’re dealing with heavy material that could be potentially blown quite easily into melodramatic vignettes. Drug addiction, obesity, loss of a parent, and suicide are all part of the material but never does it dictate the tone of the film.
As the two leads, Lillard managed to luck out with casting Wysocki (though his role will inevitably compared to a similar turn in Azazel Jacob’s 2011 Terri) and O’Leary (for those of you that haven’t seen him before, check out Natural Selection, 2011), and it’s their dynamic that gives the film an unexpected amount of charisma. Mention must also be made of Billy Campbell’s subtle and moving turn as Troy’s severe but caring father, unsure of what to do or how to best help his oldest kid. Sure, there’s some characters that get the short shrift, namely Troy’s brother and Isabel (Lili Simmons), who’s positioned as a possible love interest for Troy though she may as well be a mirage for everything she gets to do here. Lillard has managed to make a charming labor of love, and though Fat Kid Rules the World is thankfully never as hyperbolized as it’s title and certainly has its faults, it wears its heart on its sleeve and with excellent performances from up and comers O’Leary and Wysocki. It’s definitely a film worthy of attention.