Run, Fat Boy, Run (review)

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Marathon Man

If I like a movie, I usually like seeing it again. Except when it comes to romantic comedies: I tend not to think they bear up to multiple viewings, even the few good ones. I may have to reconsider that stance, however, now that I’ve seen Run, Fat Boy, Run twice. That’s not my normal operating procedure — I rarely have the time or the opportunity to see a movie more than once before I review it. But my first look at this one, a joint American-British production, was six months ago, when it was originally scheduled to open here in the U.S. (and when it did open in the U.K.; in the usual reversal of all things movie, it’s already available on DVD in England). When the release date was pushed back to now, I felt that it was only fair that I refresh my memory of it before I wrote about it.
So: I was delighted to discover that Fat Boy improves on a second look. Not that I didn’t find it perfectly pleasant the first time around, but I thought that perhaps I was being unduly influenced by my fangirl crush on Simon Pegg, and that the movie could safely be saved by all non-Pegg-aholics for a first look on DVD. But now I’m thinking, Not so much: anyone looking for a good time at the movies will find it here.

Or else it’s just that a double dose of Pegg pushed me over the edge. I will concede that this is a possibility.

And Fat Boy — the theatrical directorial debut of actor David Schwimmer, who acquits himself admirably — is a double dose of Pegg even the first time you see it, for he rewrote the original script, by Reno 911 actor and sketch comedian Michael Ian Black, transporting the action from New York to London and giving it a particularly British, particularly Pegg-ish spin, both in the overall and in the character of the leading man (he can be called a “hero” only in the literary sense). Pegg is Dennis Doyle, who works as a security guard for his living, which is paltry not only financially but emotionally, too: he’s never gotten over the loss of his fiancée, Libby (Thandie Newton: The Pursuit of Happyness, Crash). Which is entirely his own fault: he abandoned her at the altar five years earlier. When she was pregnant with his child. Yeah, he’s a jerk.

But he’s a soulful jerk, not just because, you know, I really just like Pegg and appreciate a British sense of humor more than an American one, but because he ladles a deeper understanding of why men screw up into Dennis than we usually see in romantic comedies, which tend to excuse anything men do as long as, in the end, they’re really, really sorry and make big-puupy-dog-adorable eyes while they say so. There’s more to Dennis than that, which I won’t spoil for you, because when he finally gets around to explaining to Libby just what the hell was going through his mind when he literally ran away from their wedding, it’s surprising because it actually makes sense. You get where he’s coming from. You still want to smack him for have been such an idiot, but you buy it; it’s not the typical simplistic (and usually bullshit) men-can’t-commit tripe. And you feel — as you usually do not with romantic comedies — that whether Dennis ends up with Libby eventually or ends up with someone else he has truly learned something and is not likely to screw it up again in the same way.

He may well not end up with Libby, because his “competition” here is Hank Azaria’s (The Simpsons Movie, Eulogy) Whit, a handsome and rich hedge fund manager who’s also, in atypical rom-com form, not a complete asshole with whom the heroine clearly does not belong. You sense that Whit may show a bad side later… or he may not. There’s enough uncertainty in Pegg’s script and in the more realistically drawn characters than we usually get in the genre that you can’t really be sure. And of course it’s not as if Libby is making a choice between Dennis and Whit — she’s was done with Dennis years ago, and if not for their son, Jake (Matthew Fenton, who’s quite cute and appropriately little-boyish, and not a precocious fake movie-kid), she wouldn’t have to see Dennis at all. Dennis and Whit aren’t competing at all… except in Dennis’s head, when he decides that he can “prove” to Libby that he’s serious enough to win her back by running in the same marathon Whit is training for. Not that he’s ever run a marathon before. And, oh yeah, he’s not fat, he insists, he’s just “unfit.” Which is Dennis all over, not just in his couch-potato-hood.

Dennis is Pegg’s Shaun (of the Dead) without the zombies pretending to make him larger than life. He’s the flip side of Pegg’s Hot Fuzz supercop, ambitious only in the extent of his laziness. Anyone expecting the Pegg we’ve come to know and love in those frenzied comedies may be disappointed here. The one moment of grossout humor shoehorned into Fat Boy seems calculated to appeal to a crowd that won’t be satisfied with the bittersweetness of reality — even the funny side of reality, like how real men don’t know how to throw punches at one another at all — that’s all over this. Everyone else: enjoy.

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