Written by: Rob Van Winkle, CC2K Staff Writer
How’s this for a recipe for disaster: a romantic comedy, about a race, directed by Ross from Friends, with a U.S. premiere over six months after its initial release date. If not another detail was provided, chances are the average viewer would extrapolate that the movie in question was predictable, broad, and with the hero ultimately winning the contest, the day and the woman. That viewer would be correct too, except for one thing: it also kicks ass!
Run Fatboy Run is the story of Dennis (Simon Pegg), who is just your average sad sack loser in love with a woman out of his league. The catch here is that he once HAD her, and in fact left her at the altar five years previously, while she was pregnant with their son. He has spent most of his time since that day trying to win her back, but as the movie begins she has just met Whit (Hank Azaria), an impossibly perfect man who has everything going for him. He earns a ton of money, he gets along with everyone, and on top of all that, the douche bag runs marathons! In an effort to knock Whit down a peg (while simultaneously proving to his love that he can finish what he starts), Dennis vows to run and complete that same marathon, despite a lack of training, funding, or any real expectation of success.
If all this sounds more than a little bit formulaic, there’s a good reason. At no point during Run Fatboy Run does anything major happen that you didn’t see coming a mile away. Would it be a major spoiler if I hinted that perhaps Whit is not as perfect as he at first appears? Would you be blown away if I intimated that maybe something happens involving Dennis’ child that makes the audience see how great a guy he is, deep down inside? If, at the end, things tend to skew toward the positive for all the “good” guys, would that come as a huge surprise? Of course not. But nuance is not why people come to see movies like this one. They come to enjoy what they hope will be a fresh spin on the well-worn formula, and if it’s not too much to ask, a laugh or two from unlikely places. In this respect, Run Fatboy Run is a smashing success.
Given that he is actually well-known as an accomplished theater director, I was surprised to learn that RFR was the feature film directorial debut of David Schwimmer. However, like all canny first-timers, he has surrounded himself with a great support staff, to ensure his first movie would lead to others. The film is written by Simon Pegg – our current wunderkind of sincere parody (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) – and Michael Ian Black – lesser known but no less influential within comedy circles (The State, Stella), and it stars the aforementioned Pegg, as well as Hank Azaria (whose stock as an actor might have fallen in recent years, but still possesses an unlimited supply of Simpsons-related credibility) as the “evil” Whit. Such a creative team should be able to make something worthwhile out of even mediocre material. Luckily for everyone involved, the material is better than average, and thus the end result is even better.
So what is it about Run Fatboy Run that allows it to transcend its genre? It’s hard to say, actually. There’s a VERY subtle balance that needs to be found, in order to make a romantic comedy that truly appeals to everyone. The Farrelly Brothers found it once with There’s Something about Mary, and have struggled to recapture it ever since. The general consensus these days is that Judd Apatow has discovered it with The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up, but history will eventually realize that this is not really the case. (To learn more about Apatow’s dubious legacy, CLICK HERE). Let’s face it: it’s HARD to craft a film that sweet and sincere enough for the women in the audience, yet also broad (and in some cases, “raunchy”) enough for the men. That’s why it’s so noteworthy when someone does it correctly.
As already stated, Run Fatboy Run is entirely predictable from beginning to end. And yet, it hits every note it has to, and ends up entertaining both genders in equal measure. Here is what it offers both sexes:
Women – The main relationship between Simon Pegg and Thandie Newton is undeniably sweet and sincere. While we certainly can’t condone or approve of Dennis’ initial actions, the dude literally spends FIVE YEARS attempting to make it up to her, and win her back. His devotion to his son is apparent, which also scores points with us. And while Whit’s eventual unmasking as an asshole is somewhat suspect (it seems to boil down to the fact that he loses his temper every once in a while), we do get to see the empowering sight of a strong woman seeing through the glitzy façade of a shallow guy and eventually choosing the admittedly flawed man with the heart of gold. Each of these characters is someone you would want to know in real life, and that fact goes a long way in causing us to root for their ultimate happiness.
(Also, as an added bonus for the women, Thandie Newton is a beautiful woman, and yet she does not come across as one of those Hollywood bombshells attempting to look “plain” for the sake of “realism,” nor does she spend the entire movie prancing around in air-brushed perfection, with all men slavering at her feet. She is exactly as pretty as the character needed to be; the sort of woman who MIGHT go overlooked, only to be mourned by all men who knew her when she eventually goes “off the market.” In my experience, the women I know do not begrudge pretty actresses playing women desired by multiple men, but they HATE it when we have to be told over and over again just how beautiful they are. Ms. Diaz, I’m pointing in your direction.)
Men – For a romantic comedy to be appealing to men, it has GOT to be funny in a way that resonates with men. Run Fatboy Run accomplishes this by giving us a main character we can all relate to (a bit out of shape, less successful than he’d like, still regretting a past mistake, etc.) and just kicking the shit out of him. The obvious choice for a role like this would have been Will Ferrell (can we finally agree yet that he’s not funny? Not YET?), but thankfully the role was Simon Pegg’s from the get-go. It’s very possible to feel for the guy, and impossible not to like him. Thus, when we see him endure the various mishaps and disasters that befall him on the way to the big finale, what would have been merely amusing becomes downright hilarious.
There’s nothing in Run Fatboy Run that’s going to transcend the genre, and you might find yourself forgetting entire scenes soon after the final race has run, and the credits have started running. However, for a romantic comedy, it is everything you expect it to be, and while the only surprise you’ll encounter is the fact that the movie is far better than you imagine it’ll be, that might be the only one needed.