Most people look at “Run Fatboy Run” and either laugh about the title or say, “Oh it has that guy from ‘Hot Fuzz’ in it. I never saw ‘Hot Fuzz.’ It’s, like, a British comedy, right?”
Unfortunately, this means that in the States, David Schwimmer’s directorial debut is a box office bomb. Yes, this also means Ross from “Friends” directed this movie. But don’t be fooled, America, “Run Fatboy Run” is not at all what it seems to be.
In its opening weekend, the film landed at the #12 spot in the US, making a dismal $2.3 million. (It had a relatively low-budget of just $10 million, though.) The film’s real success of course came in the UK, where it was released 7 months ago — it stayed in theaters there for almost three months, making over $22.6 million dollars. So after reading these numbers, I expected this film to be a pretty safe bet. I was pleasantly surprised.
“Run Fatboy Run” avoids all the clichés that an American comedy would, a characteristic that I hope American audiences will eventually learn to appreciate. Simon Pegg (“Hot Fuzz”) plays Dennis, a coward of a man who leaves his beautiful (and pregnant) wife at the altar. So, why should we like Dennis?
At first, Dennis makes it clear that we should have no reason to like him, other than the fact that his pathetic life is funny to watch. He is a slightly plump, middle-aged rent-a-cop who couldn’t catch a cross-dressing thief in heels. When he gets home, Dennis suffers the indignity of having to beg his Indian landlord, Mr. Ghoshdashtidar (Harish Patel), to let him into his basement apartment.
Dennis maintains a decent relationship with his ex-fianceé Libby (Thandie Newton, “Crash”) and takes equal part in raising their son Jake. When Whit (Hank Azaria), the successful American businessman and typical “perfect but secretly crazy” potential husband, begins a serious relationship with Libby, Dennis starts to feel protective. When he discovers that Whit is running a marathon, Dennis decides that he is going to run the marathon, too, in a last-ditch effort to win Libby back.
This is where the film takes the American leap of faith. If “Fatboy” were written for an American audience, it would probably follow a predictable storyline: Dennis pathetically trains for a few weeks, finishes the race in comedic form and wins the girl back in the process. Rather than taking this simple and well-beaten path, “Fatboy” holds its ground and creates a realistic and sometimes touching story.
At one point during his training, Libby tells Dennis that if he finishes the 26.2-mile marathon, it would be ridiculous for him to think they’d get back together. Later, Dennis confronts her to explain that he isn’t running it to win her back even if it appears that way. He says, “I’d settle for your respect. I’d settle for you not to think it’s a waste of time.” These confrontations simply would not happen in an American comedy. Rather than avoiding reality, the film answers the questions that would typically go unanswered. This is why “Fatboy” is compelling — it has depth, beauty and reality, which, combined with great physical comedy and British wordplay, makes for an excellent and unique film.
Dennis goes through three weeks of grueling training, with the help of his two official coaches: Mr. Ghoshdashtidar and his scummy, jobless friend Gordon, a cousin of Libby’s who literally bets all of his money on Dennis completing the marathon. The bet, in combination with the fact that Whit and Libby are engaged the night before, causes Dennis to give up all hope. His landlord kicks him out, and he and Gordon get into an intense fight. Finally, Dennis decides to run the race.
In the end, I left with a smile on my face. Not because Dennis completed the race, which is expected, but because of how he wins and what happens as a result. While certain aspects are arguably unrealistic, like the fact that the local News decides to follow Dennis, the end result feels very real. The movie does not end with the family together; it ends with the family beginning to come together. My heart is warmed not only by the fantastic story that is told, but also by the fact that “Run Fatboy Run” successfully breaks the mold. This film is for hard workers, lazy-asses, lovers, laughers, criers and everyone in between.