FAT KID RULES THE WORLD (Matthew Lillard) Rating: NNNN
Opening Friday (July 13) at the Projection Booth after a strong showing at TIFF's Next Wave festival in May, Fat Kid Rules The World is the directorial debut of actor Matthew Lillard, whose intriguing CV includes geeking out in Scream, acting opposite an imaginary dog in Scooby-Doo and cuckolding George Clooney in The Descendants.
Adapted from K.L. Going's young-adult novel, it's the empathetic and heartfelt story of miserable high schooler Troy (Jacob Wysocki), befriended more or less against his will by bipolar classmate Marcus (Matt O'Leary), who enlists him for his new band despite Troy's apparent lack of musical ability.
Lillard and his actors bore into the material. Wysocki and O'Leary are entirely convincing as symbiotic misfits, and Billy Campbell works wonders with the role of a rigid father, investing a potential cliché with depth and complexity - and, in at least two scenes, some expert comic timing.
There's no attempt here, unlike in many YA adaptations, to blunt the edges of the material to avoid alienating some imaginary fragile teenage viewer. Lillard knows teens and adults alike can tell when they're being coddled, and he lets things be as real as they need to be. Troy's alienation and self-loathing aren't soft-pedalled or mocked; instead, they're part of who he is, and played straight.
Though the material skews dark - this is, after all, a picture that opens with Troy imagining his own very messy suicide - the movie never loses its sense of playful humour. Lillard understands that when things get this grim, you have to laugh. Or at least get behind a drum kit.
Screening daily through July 19 at the Projection Booth.