On Saturday, March 17, 2012 I attended the long-awaited World Premiere of Fat Kid Rules the World
at the SXSW Film Festival. The sold-out screening was held at the whimsical Alamo Lamar in Austin, Texas. The film was a selection in the Narrative Spotlight section.
Fat Kid Rules the World
is the surprisingly sweet, heartfelt directorial debut from accomplished actor Matthew Lillard. Known for his onscreen work with successful studio pictures Scream
, Without a Paddle
, and the Scooby Doo
franchise, along with indie titles like SLC Punk!
, The Groomsmen
, and the award-winning Alexander Payne film The Descendants
, Lillard steps behind the camera to put his own creative and observational skills to the test. Directing from a script by Michael M.B. Galvin and Peter Speakman, based on the K.L. Going novel, he crafts a painfully authentic work about one boy's descent into self-pity and the efforts of a stranger to lift him up and out of despair.
Troy BIllings (the incredible Jacob Wysocki) is the "fat kid," who's the quintessential loser in the eyes of his drill sergeant-turned security guard father (Billy Campbell), loathsome little brother Dayle (Dylan Arnold), and his bullying classmates. A chance encounter with a drug-addled, homeless former student (Matt O'Leary) results in a most unlikely bond between the two boys that takes Troy in a direction nobody has ever imagined possible.
Wysocki and O'Leary carry the movie with a synergy that is breathtaking. Wysocki has an ability to patiently develop a passive-aggressive behavior that he will need to transform his character and transcend the disdain and ridicule from his father and brother. O'Leary (who also starred in Eden
, another SXSW 2012 film that made my Top 10) is frighteningly brilliant as the ne'er-do-well who has to, somehow, become Troy's role model and help him fulfill his dreams. As the take-no-prisoners dad, Campbell shows a side we've never seen before -- brutally tough but not malevolent, in a delicately loving way, so nuanced that it's barely apparent. Dylan Arnold plays the despicable younger teen in the family, the epitome of the hurtful brother (usually the older one), with an honesty that is chilling.
Rick Rosenthal, who produced the picture along with director Matthew Lillard and Nick Morton, is an iconic filmmaker in his own right who's produced, directed, and written dozen of movies, many of which he's acted in, still finding time to become an in-demand teacher at the American Film Institute. He directed two in the Halloween franchise and Executive Produced, with Gregory Smith, last year's Sundance hit On the Ice
. He was also a producer on Mean Creek
, one of my all-time favorite indies. He brought an unparalleled passion to this project that affects much of what is seen onscreen.
Fat Kid Rules the World
has the professional look and slick sound of a Hollywood movie with high production values that belie its low budget. Befitting a film with rock 'n roll as a major theme (the live music and concert sequences are hot and authentic), the original score by Mike McCready is appropriately kick-ass and cutting edge. The fresh cinematography from Noah Rosenthal, longtime collaborator with producer (and father) Rick Rosenthal, and Michelle Witten's sharp editing, are about as crisp and polished as I've seen in an indie. Production Designer Tania Kupczak's attention to detail is delightful. The crew's affection for the material is palpable.
Don't let the title fool you. Fat Kid Rules the World
is not a teen sex comedy. It's not Porky's
or American Pie
. Yes, it starts out looking like a typical high school movie. It is about a teenage boy, after all. But the film becomes a tender, bittersweet story about self-confidence and family ties. This winning directorial debut from Matthew Lillard will leave you with a tear in your eye and a smile on your face.
For being such an unexpected surprise, and one that dares to explore, question, and challenge traditional relationships between father and son, big and little brother, and the people we consider "friends," I gave Fat Kid Rules the World
four stars and a place on my 2012 SXSW Film Festival Top 10
Legendary producer Rick Rosenthal took the stage after the screening to answer audience questions.
Here are some pictures I shot during the Q&A:
GALLERY (18 photos)
It is my policy is to keep all my posts as spoiler-free as possible. For a more detailed synopsis of the film see the SXSW official page
NOTE: Fat Kid Rules the World went on to win the Narrative Spotlight Audience Award.