Monday, March 31, 2008

Run Fatboy Run

Coming off his role as Ross in the venerable Friends series you have to assume going in that first-time director David Schwimmer is likely to have a skewed, anti-reality based comedic view. Run Fatboy Run (2008) backs that idea up. It follows the story of loser Dennis (Simon Pegg), a guy so pathetic that living at home at 30 would be a huge step UP for him. He works a part time job as a security guard for an upscale lingerie store 5 years after leaving his pregnant fiance Libbie (Thandie Newton) at the altar.

That leaving of her started with him literally running down the street in panic as the wedding party watches in stunned disbelief. The theme of Dennis running away from problems is going to be made as clear as possible, from the movie's tag line to the visuals to even the penultimate event of the movie itself, the dramatic marathon at the end.

Along the way there is an eclectic hodge-podge of characters ranging from best friend Gordon (Dylan Moran) to Libbie's new beau Whit (Hank Azaria) to the bizarre landlords Mr. Ghoshdashtidar (Harish Patel) and Maya Goshdashtidar (India de Beaufort), a lady we definitely need to see in more movies. Very easy on the eyes. Perhaps even easier than the gorgeous Thandie Newton.

Anyhow, the story develops with Dennis a klutz who forgets his keys, gets outsmarted by a thief, can't get tickets for a Lord of the Rings play while Whit is successful, debonair, handsome, charming, and getting ready to propose to Libbie.

Dennis realizes how much he wants to be together with her so, in a moment of indiscretion, commits to running a marathon in 3 weeks.

In the normal formula of events he goes through training, quits, overcomes obstacles, realizes his entire life he has been running FROM obstacles and this time needs to run TOWARDS things. Along the way there are a surprisingly large number of laughs and it has a typical feel-good ending.

Of course, that brings us to the interesting portion of the essay on something that caught my attention. I do a lot of pop-culture studies and one thing that runs through that field is the idea that every movie has a message, something people learn from it either consciously if they are looking for it or subconsciously if not. In this one the obvious thing is you will, at some point, "hit the wall" in runners parlance. For me that was always around the 15 mile mark and really have to push hard to get past it. But you can do so if you have the will power and perseverance. That message was a centerpiece and people got it whether they looked for it or not.

But there was another interesting theme, one we often see in movies. That theme is that men who are financially well off are, by definition, worse choices for mates than jobless, shiftless ne'er-do-wells. Whit cares for Libbie and the boy, he is a successful businessman, he takes good care of himself. Dennis, by contrast, smokes, considers a hundred yard dash to be a ridiculous amount of exercise, is behind on his rent, is in a dead-end job with no prospects for the future...yet the conceit of the movie is that Dennis is a far superior choice. It is not until he decides he wants Libbie because Whit has her that the golden-boy image of Whit begins to unravel. Once it does, however, we the audience KNOW Whit is not good for her and Dennis is based on the emotional response of Dennis being the protagonist. Thus we root for the loser to win and the guy who seems to be everything people look for in a spouse...financially independent, fit, caring for the other, in fact, a louse. They have flaws, you just have to find them.

There is a movement in movies to ensure people learn the lesson that finding a caring, well-off man is not possible. He will be so deeply flawed that no sane woman could or would find him attractive if she were not blinded by...well, something. It is a new take on the "damsel in distress" routine with the new twist that instead of said damsel being tied up and thrown on the railroad tracks, now she is besotted with love and about to marry into a problematic relationship. And the rescuer, instead of being an altruistic genuine good guy is a flawed pauper who generally ends up taking on the role of paramour and is himself rescued in a sense from a shiftless life to being a better person...though at times she simply realizes his worthless butt is better than the other guy, and generally for inexplicable reasons. Frankly...I find the whole thing rather offensive.

Simply having money does not make someone a bad person...and not having money or job prospects yet having anti-social proclivities such as smoking, heavy drinking, illicit drugs does not make you a good guy or worthwhile prospect. Yet the current trends will leak into the general subconscious, become part of the zeitgeist and cause unnecessary issues. Too much credit being given to movies? Well, I would argue that paradigm exists in television, comics, and a lot of novels. As someone famous once said, tell a lie often enough and it becomes the truth. I suspect it is even easier when there is perceived to be a grain of truth...

If you are expecting great cinema or classic stories you will be sadly disappointed. On the other hand if you want diversion for a couple hours with some poignant, thought provoking moments and want some good laughs, this might be your ticket.

And for the record...I really have no need to see further spatula-related spankings this year. So don't even offer.

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