Happy New Year! This past month was largely focused on catching up with 2015 releases for my end of year list. (Minus the first week of January grace period I’m affording myself on account of not having the time for and access to 2015 releases that a full-time professional film writer would, you’ll just have to wait a month for those.)
Mistress America (2015, dir. Noah Baumbach)
Tracy (Lola Kirke), a college freshman and aspiring writer who is new to NYC, attempts to navigate her new surroundings by reaching out to her hipster-by-Auntie-Mame stepsister-to-be, Brooke (Greta Gerwig). One of the funniest films I’ve seen this year, due to the clever script and just-madcap-enough characters who bounce off each other delightfully. Not least among these is Brooke’s former fiancee Dylan (Michael Chernus), a fat guy who lives in the affluent suburbs of southwest Connecticut and almost matches Brooke in terms of grandiloquence and fear of adulthood.
People, Places, Things (2015, James C. Strouse)
An indie dramedy that is pretty unremarkable, with the exception of Jermaine Clement’s performance. Following the breakup between Will (Clement) and Charlie (Stephanie Allynne) that begins with Will walking in on Charlie having sex with Gary (apparent supporting role powerhouse Michael Chernus). Part of Will’s inability to move on over the course of the film deals with resentment towards Gary. Despite both men being nerdy hipster Brooklynites, larger Gary is portrayed as the more milquetoast of the two. Will is a graphic novelist, an art form that is characterized as under-appreciated and misunderstood, while Gary is a monologist, whose artistic pursuit exists in the film as material for insults. Another fat character is an unnamed student in Will’s graphic novel class, who does a piece for class about how he learned to masturbate. His work is used as a punchline– how inappropriate! like the rest of Will’s class, save Kat (Jessica Williams), this kid doesn’t get it!– but the joke comes across as misinformed. It doesn’t take much scratching of the surface of establish underground comics to find confrontationally personal autobiographical accounts.
Spotlight (2015, dir. Tom McCarthy)
It’s more likely to see fat characters in films that strive for realism, like Spotlight. However, as Spotlight has a large cast, fast-paced, complex plot, and required quite a bit of emotional processing as someone who was raised Catholic, I’m sure that I wouldn’t be able to remember everyone. Certainly none of the main characters are fat. There are fat characters, but the only one who comes to mind at this point is a reporter from a rival newspaper with whom Michael Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo) trades snarky comments during his trip to Springfield.
Star Wars: the Force Awakens (2015, JJ Abrams)
Larger bodied characters tend to be aliens in small roles who are sketchy/dangerous or whose bodies are part of the exotic, otherworldly scenery, such as the hulking junk trader on Jakku (Simon Pegg) to whom Rey sells her scavenged findings, or wide, intimidating-looking aliens in Maz Kanata’s (Lupita N’yongo) hideout. In addition to them, however, there is a rather dashing X-Wing pilot for the Resistance:
No, not him, the other dashing X-Wing pilot:
Attack the Block (2011, dir. Joe Cornish)
Sci-fi/action/comedy about a group of inner-city London youth who fight monstrous invading aliens. It’s a really smart depiction of a disaster where the only people who are working to contain the problem are the people who nobody trusts or listens to. Frequently compared to Edgar Wright’s work, it unfortunately never manages to hit the humor or emotional notes that Wright can. Case in point: Nick Frost’s role as Ron, a weed dealer. Where the Cornetto Trilogy has Frost in dynamic, funny, endearing roles, Ron isn’t given much of anything to do in Attack the Block. Shame.
Buzzard (2015, dir. Joel Potrykus)
Grungy, uncomfortable (in a good way) indie comedy about Marty (Josh Burges), a slacker who lives to game the system. One of his cons includes “returning” stolen office supplies to a retail store for cash, which he is able to do through the grace of a fat cashier (Michael Cunningham) who takes a lax approach to store policy.
Experimenter (2015, dir. Michael Almeyreda)
A fourth-wall demolishing, imagined memoir of the work of experimental psychologist Stanley Milgram (Peter Sarsgaard, in my favorite leading man performance of 2015), starting with and always coming back to his controversial 1961 experiment on subjects’ willingness to administer increasingly severe electric shocks to another person. Jim Gaffigan, whose standup includes bits on being fat, plays James McDonough, a man Milgram hired to be the “victim” of the experiment’s situation, pretending to receive the administered shocks and begging for the experiment to stop. When not acting as a man in distress, McDonough is an affable goof. 65% of the experiment subjects complied with all orders to shock McDonough, despite hearing him say that he had a heart condition and even after he became unresponsive. Most of the depictions of subject experiments show these compliant people, but two depictions are of subjects who refused to comply, including a fat man who tells the researcher saying he has no choice: “In Russia, maybe, but this is America!”