"The Fat Boy Chronicles" is a low budget movie making a big impact. Based on a novel of the same title by Lang Buchanan (the pen name of writing partners Diane Lang and Michael Buchanan), director Jason Winn's movie tells the story of an over-weight high schooler named Jimmy (Christopher Rivera). Already tired of being bullied and feeling awful about himself, Jimmy visits Dr. Jeffords (Ron Lester), who tells him the cold, hard truth: that the longer Jimmy remains obese, the harder it will be to lose the weight and the more health problems he will encounter. And eventually, Jimmy is going to die young.
Jimmy's visit with the doctor is one of the film's best scenes. Ron Lester used to be known as the fat guy from "Varsity Blues." By age 30 he weighed 508 pounds. He had found a Hollywood niche as the lovable fat kid but was headed for an early death. So when Lester as Dr. Jeffords tells Jimmy about the physical and emotional misery that awaits him until he dies at a relatively young age, the words pack a great deal of power.
This is the final straw for Jimmy, who commits to a weight loss program that includes a change in diet, exercise, and some work on his self-esteem. Jimmy finds the bravery to take chances socially. He starts dating a girl named Sable (Kelly Washington). He starts tutoring Robb (Cole Carson), a jock who would normally bully Jimmy if he noticed him at all. Jimmy undergoes psychological and emotional changes as he transforms physically. The movie becomes a coming-of-age story plucked out of the lives of many real teens today.
All the while, he gets wonderful support from his father (Bill Murphey). Their relationship is one of my favorite parts of the movie. Jimmy's friend Paul (Chris Bert), however, has a dad who puts him through the ringer. Paul is physically and verbally abused and falls into many of the standard traps that kids do when raised in that environment. Just like most real teens, all of these characters have troubles of one kind or another. Does anyone go through adolescence without pain? No one that I know, at least. "The Fat Boy Chronicles" deserves a lot of praise for recognizing that whether you're fat or skinny, popular or a nobody, growing up is hard for everyone.
This is a vital, timely movie. Unfortunately, Jimmy's prognosis is something that applies to a lot of American youth. According to the CDC, childhood obesity rates have more than tripled in the past 30 years, and in 2008, more than 1/3 of children and adolescents were overweight or obese. "The Fat Boy Chronicles" takes an accurate, truthful approach to dramatizing the causes and effects of this trend. It's the food at home and at school, it's the low self-esteem created by family and peers alike, it's the lack of awareness of how drastically being overweight effects our health, and there is a definite link between bullying and kids' feelings about themselves and their lack of motivation to change.
I'm probably making the movie sound preachy, but it isn't. Nor is it a public service announcement or after school special in disguise. It's a touching drama that just happens to be built on these themes. It's a legit movie earning an impressive amount of acclaim. It has been shown at too many film festivals to list. It has been featured on news programs throughout the eastern half of the U.S. And it has been shown at numerous high schools and church youth group events, which is part of a release strategy aimed at taking the movie to the viewers who would relate to it the most.
"The Fat Boy Chronicles" is also launching the careers of its actors and director. Rivera has since appeared in an episode of Law & Order: SVU. Washington has appeared on "Parks and Recreation" and two features. Winn also seems poised to break through after working for many years as a cinematographer on music videos, commercials, and independent features and shorts. It's always a treat as movie fans to catch talent on the way up, and this is definitely an opportunity to do that.