Punk-rock cult icon Matthew Lillard’s directorial debut “Fat Kid Rules the World,” the film adaption of the book, premiered at the SXSW film festival and won both the official selection and the audience selection awards.
One of the things that made “SLC Punk!,” the cult movie that put Matthew Lillard on the map, is its relevant commentary on punk subculture, as well as its exaggerated but perfectly captured portrait of the scene.
While “Fat Kid Rules the World” does neither of these things, it does effectively succeed in two ways. The first half does an excellent job capturing the moment that every punk remembers when the music suddenly and wonderfully clicked with them, effectively saving their life. “Fat Kid” seems to ride on the old adage, “punk rock saved my soul.” The second strays off in a different direction, showing how punk music can bring people back together, even saving them from the brink of destruction.
The first half of the movie centers around 256 pound high school reject Troy Billings and his introduction to expelled, homeless punk rocker Marcus McCray. The two meet when Marcus saves Troy from being hit by a bus, not realizing that Troy was attempting suicide. Marcus then enlists Troy, without his knowledge, to help him break into his house from which he has been kicked out by his step-father. Through a series of off-the-cuff lies, Troy is forced to follow through with Marcus’ ploy to start a band in order to solidify the fake friendship. Marcus puts Troy on drums, despite the fact that Troy has never played before. The rest of the half shows Troy slowly gaining confidence.
If the plot of the film continued in this predictable way, it would have failed miserably. However, it is saved by the changed concentration from Troy to Marcus, as far as which character has more problems. This change is the saving grace of the movie’s plot, and is what, to some degree, addresses some of the questions that were begging to be answered.
It’s possible that it is too easy to compare it to “SLC Punk!,” with it’s similar content, which sets the bar pretty high. The biggest problem apparent in “Fat Kid Rules the World,” though, is the constant feeling that it’s holding back. The draw to punk is how raw it is, how brutal it is, how no-holds-barred, full of truth it is. “SLC Punk!” captured this, showing every horrible scene from a guy going insane after taking too much LSD to highly sexual scenes to brutal fights. “Fat Kid Rules the World” only shows what is happening, as if the audience is not old enough to see the entire situation playing out. The effect of this is a smaller character spectrum where everything and everyone seems shallow.
It is a shame, really, that the movie pulls so many associations. It is judged by its rendering of the book as well as Matthew Lillard’s past as a punk icon. If it did stand entirely on its own and was not tinted by the things that surround its production, it can definitely be called an excellent directorial debut by Lillard. It is technically well done, especially for the fact that the budget came from a Washington state grant and money raised on Kickstarter.