Jacob Wysocki is the kind of actor where, the minute look into his soul-penetrating eyes that say more than words ever could, his sympathy begins to tug at your fragile heartstrings, and after spending an hour and a half with his character, rarely leaving the frame, you feel shaken and riveted. He's playing a character seemingly more in-tuned with life than his character in Terri, his acting debut, and in certain stretches, he appears more comfortable and confident as an actor.
He gives Fat Kid Rules the World, actor Matthew Lillard's directorial debut, a powerful life and impact as he effortlessly takes the thin concept presented and makes it into a convincing, ninety-minute portrayal of an obese social pariah and his fight to gain back his confidence and motivation, at first assuming he ever had any. Wysocki plays Troy Billings, who is seen fantasizing about a grisly suicide attempt in the opening minutes of the film. When he finally attempts his tragic fate, by walking in front of a bus, he is saved at the very last second by Marcus McCray (Matt O'Leary), a homeless drug addict who is one of the leads in his underground band. One wonders why a character like this would save a defenseless fat kid from an ugly fate. Then he asks him for $20.
Troy's homelife is rather grim as well; his father (Billy Campbell, whose performance will most likely be overshadowed, but is very, very wonderful) wants nothing but the best for his son, like all fathers, and for that reason, seems to give him more leniency than he should/ Troy's younger brother couldn't care less about him, and when it is revealed that their mother died, we question if this family were ever tightly bound together or if they were always coldly isolated from each other. When Troy begins prolifically hanging out with Marcus, Troy's father becomes conflicted in the sense that he is happy his boy found a friend, yet displeased with his friend's reckless, inconsequential behavior. When Marcus comes up with the spur-of-the-moment decision that him and Troy should form a rock band, with Troy on the drums, their relationship begins to become stronger and they start to understand the life the other one lives.
I worried that this film would mirror too closely to Wysocki's overlooked Terri, in terms of direction, tone, and plot, but that assumption was thrown away well before the first act ended. The "Terri" character in that film seemed to be more content with being an outsider and simply just wanted to be left alone, while we can see that Troy, here, is hungering for attention and acceptance. Meeting Marcus is arguably the best or worst thing that could've happened to him, yet we are left to answer that question.
The film is a little slow, but we are given much in the way of greatness in terms of writing and photography. Written by Michael M.B. Galvin and Peter Speakman, based off the K.L. Going novel of the same name, Fat Kid Rules the World, delicately paints the Troy character and the world around him, photographing it in hazy yet artful beauty, and giving him a story to tell that makes him marginally stand out from the rest. His story is not that far off from the story of Angus Bethune in another overlooked film by the name of Angus, starring Charlie Talbert as the title character, an overweight kid who simply hungered for acceptance and the feeling of not being ostracized. It is that specific quality that makes this film wholesome and understandable, and very, very unselfish.
I come full circle by saying that Wysocki's performance is by far, one of the best of the year. His mind and attitude is all one hundred percent and his capability as an actor bleeds from the second he steps on screen. He rightfully achieves sympathy, and even empathy, without being heavy-handed or cliché in his performance. Not to mention, Lillard gives this material the sensitivity and honest direction it needs and deserves. I just hope that Wysocki will not find himself type-cast in the role of the hopeless obese teen and branches out to find great work, surrounded by characters who love and accept him. We all deserve that.
Starring: Jacob Wysocki, Matt O"Leary, and Billy Campbell. Directed by: Matthew Lillard.
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