There are ways in which Mark Phinney’s ‘Fat’ is an utterly unique drama. For the first hour, the film takes on a character and mental state that haven’t been seen before on-screen and does so from a unique perspective. Unfortunately, at a certain point, Phinney gets a little too melodramatic and formulaic.
It’s apparently a highly personal effort for the Boston filmmaker, so perhaps he just got a little carried away in dramatizing small realities. Or maybe some of the most ludicrous aspects of the story actually happened and Phinney didn’t think to tone them down for fiction. Either way, it’s a little frustrating to watch a movie skirt so close to being great and ultimately end up being merely good.
Mel Rodriguez (currently a supporting player in ‘The Last Man on Earth’) stars as Ken, an office drone bottoming out in life. He’s overweight and self-loathing. He also lets his weight define him in unhealthy ways. Whenever he isn’t binging, he’s caught up in other spirals like stalking his ex-girlfriend or obsessing over past failures. He has a close friend who wants to help, whether it be as a shoulder to cry on, a dispenser of tough advice, or setting him up with a gal. None of that ever seems to work. No matter how hard Ken tries to keep his rickety ship afloat, he just keeps falling back into the same messy patterns that are causing all of his problems.
Phinney uses ‘Fat’ as a means to explore overeating as an addiction, and that’s a perfectly valid and even relevant approach. His protagonist is caught up in a perpetual cycle of swallowing food and sadness, which has a tendency of bubbling up not just in his appearance but his behavior. Extreme though it might sound, it’s a fairly common occurrence that the writer/director admits came from his own life. In the early going when the filmmaker’s observational cameras follow Ken through his distressingly familiar cycles, it’s even a rather powerful project.
Unfortunately, the director pushes things too far. The soundtrack is frustratingly on-the-nose throughout with lyrics practically screaming the movie’s message at the audience. Beyond that, the addiction cycle plays out like all addiction movies do, leading to confrontations and tragic crying sessions that, no matter how real they may have been in Phinney’s life, feel irritatingly manipulative and overblown on screen. The delicate sense of observational drama the director crafts so well slowly collapses into ‘Afterschool Special’ sermonizing, and gradually the film becomes hard to watch for more reasons than just the uncomfortable honesty and intimacy.
However, even if the movie surrounding him might lose its way, Mel Rodriguez remains outstanding throughout. He delivers a fearlessly vulnerable performance both emotionally and physically. The character is often charming, but unforgivingly sad and self-destructive. Rodriguez gamely dives into all the nastiness and harsh emotions to deliver a fully formed and damaged human, even when the script betrays the performer’s emotional honesty. It’s a truly remarkable performance, and on the back of Rodriguez’s deeply impressive work, ‘Fat’ emerges as a difficult film well worth watching.
For all its flaws, ‘Fat’ explores a character all too common yet barely ever explored on screen. It’s not an easy movie, but a worthy one that will hopefully earn Rodriguez more roles suited to his considerable talents.