Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Run, Fat Boy, Run

Run, Fat Boy, Run – a romantic comedy about a dopey loser who vows to run a marathon in order to win back his ex-wife – will one day make a remarkable case for reception studies based on the differences of its release and perception in the UK and US. It’s not due out until mid March in the US, at which point it will likely be dumped in a limited release (1500 screens absolute max) and see middling box office returns. Too low brow to receive critical support and not funny enough to generate feverish word of mouth, the film stands little chance to make any mark in the states other than to be seen as David Schwimmer’s failed feature directorial debut. However, in its native Britain, Run, Fat Boy, Run has already garnered some modestly supportive reviews and generated solid box office including a three-week-and-counting run at number one thanks to its prim London locales and lead performance by British comedy superstar Simon Pegg.

Being a sucker for romantic comedies, British urban idylls and all things Schwimmer (I proudly proclaim him to be my favorite Friend and to have seen him on stage twice), I headed off to the cinema to make a judgment on the film before the nasty US marks start pouring in. The verdict? A mild, inoffensive comedy that’s not as crass as its title but still revels in a few too many crotch shots and the gross-out effect of a mammoth blister erupting in a poor bloke’s face. Fortunately it’s all done with pretty locations, inspired casting and a thematic interest in mending family ties. In short, if you’re a fan of one of the three qualities I professed a love for, you’ll probably be entertained.

In the first few minutes of the film, during Dennis’ (Pegg) fevered decision to run out on his fiancé Libby (Thandie Newtwon), Schwimmer loads on all the skewed angles and temporal and aural discontinuities of a first-time filmmaker eager to prove his knowledge of an editing room.

Fortunately, as the film progresses he relaxes and actually proves himself quite adept. He handles a number of key sequences with assuredness and one particular scene with expertise. When Libby’s new boyfriend Whit (perfectly played by Hank Azaria) dings a glass at a crowded party to make an announcement, the entire audience knows that what is to follow is a proposal, but for a change, so does the heretofore witless lead character. Instead of trying to build the tension (because there would be none to build) by holding on Whit’s speech giving, he cuts to a close-up of Dennis realizing what’s about to happen so that Pegg is able to convey the agonizing torture of awaiting the inevitable instead of playing it for a shocked double take after the announcement has been made. Schwimmer’s ten years in the sitcom world have helped him to spot a cliché, know how to adhere to it and most importantly, how to tweak it just enough to make it work.

More to the credit of Michael Ian Black’s original script and Simon Pegg’s rewrite is that the film manages to pull off the story’s silly conceit. Not for an instant could the weight of a legitimate romance hinge on something as inconsequential as running a marathon but the characters acknowledge this idiocy and by the end, the script manages to surprisingly pull out a viable situation in which it does. Even if it does depend on some late-in-the-game vilifying of Libby’s American suitor. It’s almost as if the filmmakers have anticipated the film’s predestined failure in the States.

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