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Fatso (2008)
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by Jay Seaver

"Big heart, not-so-big elsewhere."
3 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2010 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: Norway's "Fatso" goes for the comedy of discomfort far more than an American version of the same story would, and as a result, maybe it makes sense in that case that it ends with only the wispiest sense of resolution. It makes for a bit of a frustrating total experience, because the characters earn more, but writer/director Arild Fröhlich is sticking to his guns: Happiness doesn't come easy.

Rino (Nils Jørgen Kaalstad) knows this. Overweight, schlumpy, and painfully shy, he spends his days in his late grandmother's apartment translating technical manuals from German to Norwegian, his only friend a gypsy-cab driver by the name of Fillippo (Kyrre Hellum), and his only outlets the comics he draws featuring himself as a sex-obsessed rhinoceros, porn, and masturbation. That may change soon; Rino's father has rented the second bedroom out to Malin (Josefin Ljungman), a gorgeous 20-year-old girl from Sweden who is looking to live a more quiet life.

In some ways, it's unfortunate that the movie (and novel from which the movie was adapted) is called "Fatso", because in many ways Malin is more interesting than Rino. That's not even particularly because Ljungman is more photogenic than the way Kaalstad appears during most of the film; she's got an uncanny knack to reveal massive sadness and despair when without smearing her makeup or otherwise downplaying her beauty, even if we'd just seen her seemingly cheerful moments before. Of course, part of this likely comes because we only see into her life obliquely, when Malin mentions it to Rino or when he ends up with a front-row seat for her relationship meeting with disaster. Telling the pair's stories in a more balanced way might lessen the impact of it.

Besides, it's not as though Rino's story is weak. Kaalstad is every bit as good as Ljungman, although not as easy to watch. Sure, he's actually a nice guy if you get past the perviness, but that just means Kaalstad has to play the role more delicately. He has to do embarrassing things, stop talking mid-sentence because of the utter fear that must be overcome to spit out the next syllable. He often can't just react to what's going on around him, because he must often find himself unsure of how to react, because he's not sure whether he's being deliberately insulted or the other person is just clueless about how he sounds. He has to get angry at the people who mean him the least harm.

There's laughs to be had within all that hesitation, although it's often hesitant, is-this-actually-funny laughter. There's also broad, gross-out humor, and the talking Fleshlight is not really the most over-the-top bit of it. We also get animations of Rino's comics, which are generally broad slapstick but also a bit uncomfortable.

Maybe the issue is just in how Fatso is presented. The festival program and poster play up the sex-comedy elements, and they're definitely there, but they result in the movie being played very broadly at times, which sets up expectations for a big finish that the movie doesn't deliver; rather than a big finale it offers baby steps. Even looking at the movie as a drama with some comic moments, it's kind of a fizzle of an ending.

There's a couple of interesting characters inside "Fatso", and just excising its cruder moments would hurt it; they are a part of who Rino is. Rino and Malin just don't have a story that deserves them. Maybe it worked better as a novel, but it winds up a bit underwhelming as a film.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=21165&reviewer=371
originally posted: 07/27/10 00:27:56
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2010 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

5/06/13 Adolph Link That movie was pretty good 4 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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