As outsiders to the Hollywood scene we often get this vision of glamour, wealth and fame, the sun is always shining, the population is always smiling and much like rats you are never more than five metres away from a celebrity. What we are rarely told is the actual truth, that underneath all the glamour LA has a dark and seedy underbelly were millions of people live hand-to-mouth, struggling to get by. Where drink and drugs are plentiful and pretty easy to get hold, it’s becoming a major problem for a lot of people. While thousands and thousands of fame-hungry wannabes are regularly chewed up and spat out every day, without so much as stepping foot on a sound stage in theatre, film or TV. In fact, 99 percent of these people are defeated before making even a dent in the entertainment industry at all.
In the mid-’90s there was a swathe of Independent films just like ‘Funny Fat Guy’ that consisted of groups of friends and acquaintances sitting in bedsits, coffee shops, restaurants, and other public spaces who were all taking part in conversations about nothing. For some reason, these discussions of nothingness always seemed to be extremely urgent and full of energy. The Reservoir Dogs chatting about Madonna, Dante and Randall discussing pop culture in Clerks, Pacino and De Niro comparing jobs in Heat and Vince Vaughan and Jon Favreau discussing girls, fame, and money in Funny Fat Guys spiritual movie brother Swingers.
Swingers was director Doug Liman’s first film that became a sleeper hit in 1996 going on to achieve cult status and giving us the huge talents of Vaughan and Favreau. Funny Fat Guy has been out for a few years now so is unlikely to reach the same heights but that shouldn’t detract from the fact that this is a good movie and although it isn’t as funny or light as Swingers, it shares with it a kindred spirit of cynicism but then trumps it with its darkness. Also much like Vince Vaughan, Funny Fat Guy gives us a star-making turn from its lead actor Sandy Danto.
As struggling stand-up comedian Charlie McStean, Danto gives a powerhouse performance in this film. Due to his size, Danto immediately brings to mind John Belushi while his voice and laconic delivery are reminiscent of Steve Wright, it’s a brilliant package. We meet him during a performance at his local comedy club in front of 5 or 6 people. He’s a shambolic, slobbish figure but his material raises laughs. The audience takes to him straight away, we like him, we root for him and we want him to succeed. That, however, is not the journey the film’s director Ryan Penington or writer Nick Snowden wants us or Charlie to go on. This film is not about the successes, it’s about the failures.
Charlie is an alcoholic and drinks whenever he can, he eats fast food, takes a lot of drugs and stays out late, we watch as his excessive lifestyle takes over everything in his life. His addictions grow faster than his career and begins to interfere with his comedy, temporary teaching jobs and his relationships. We meet a number of Charlie’s friends along his downward spiral most are struggling like him but others have made some small inroads into the entertainment industry. Their success only helps to speed up Charlie’s self-destruction.
Director Ryan Penington shows a great eye for the material; he obviously knows a lot about struggling comics trying to make it in show business. He’s able to bring out some lovely performances from his actors, while his shot choices as the movie cinematographer help embellish the drama. The use of close-ups and mid shots for the majority of the scenes helps give the audience the sense that they are eavesdropping on real life. While the imagery and film grain is very reminiscent of its mid 90’s influences. The lighting meanwhile remains quite dark throughout, and with it consisting of mainly of blues and blacks, what this colour scheme does is help the film come across as quite foreboding and as the mood darkens, so does the lighting.
Funny Fat Guy is not a terribly original idea but as has always been the case with Hollywood everybody steals from everyone else so what’s the problem. Despite its darker elements, the movie is sweet at times, funny most of the time and cleverly observant all of the time, but Danto is worth the ticket price alone.
There are countless young men like Charlie all over Hollywood who are so near to stardom that they can almost reach out and touch it, yet they are so far away they can’t even afford to live.
Catch Funny Fat Guy wherever and whenever you can.