I was aware of Funny Fat Guy, a film directed by Ryan Penington and written by Nick Snowden, even before it popped up in my e-mail with a request for review because one of my good buddies in the film criticism world, Nuvo Newsweekly's Sam Watermeier, had given the film kudos during his publication's 2016 year-end acknowledgements and, in particular, he'd raved about the film's lead, Sandy Danto, a guy who will likely remind most people of the late John Belushi but who had me thinking about the marvelous Patton Oswalt on more than one occasion.
Funny Fat Guy tells the story of, you guessed it, a fat guy named Charlie McStean who's funny or, in this case, a guy who's been funny in the past but whose comedy career is on the downslide as he finds booze, drugs and fast food instead of the laughs that he so intensely continues to crave.
While Funny Fat Guy centers around the world of stand-up comedy in L.A., the simple truth is there's not a whole lot to laugh at in a film that has the balls, thanks to Snowden's intensely human and achingly honest script, to plumb the depths of stand-up's darker side. It helps to have an actor the caliber of Danto, an alumnus of Indiana University, whose performance here is so achingly vulnerable and yet brash with semi-comic bravado that you both root for him and are afraid for him. He's kind of like that friend that you keep rooting for no matter how much and how many times they bottom out. It's a bravura performance that deserved Watermeier's kudos and deserves to Hollywood knocking on his doors.
Funny Fat Guy is a low-budget effort that was short for $15k over the course of 20 days and, rather miraculously, despite the low budget managed to still pay SAG-ULB rates. As a bit of a fun fact, it's worth noting that 17 members of the film's cast are, in fact, stand-up comedians and it may very well be that improvisational spirit and impulse that gives the film its energy and sense of urgency.
In addition to Danto's fine performance, Funny Fat Guy benefits greatly from the supporting performance of Trevor Lee Georgeson as Taylor, one of Charlie's best friends yet one who's on the verge of leaving him behind as he starts to achieve success in his own career. This is a common theme in Charlie's life, a theme played out even more dramatically as his life becomes increasingly consumed by drugs and alcohol as a way to cope with a life that is on the downward spiral.
While there's laughs to be found in Funny Fat Guy, the truth is that this is likely a dramatic film first with scenes that devastate and linger in your psyche' long after the closing credits have rolled by including a jarring finale that isn't particularly unexpected but is, nonetheless, bolder than most of the drivel put out of Hollywood these days.
Among the rest of the supporting players, and this is truly a fine ensemble cast, special kudos must be given to Shelley Dennis, offering up a performance that gives the film a quiet emotional resonance, and Timothy A. Bennett, whose turn as Lou, and every comedy club has to have at least one Lou, is absolutely spot-on.
Penington himself lenses the film and does so with a sort of uncomfortable intimacy that makes everything that unfolds seem rather surreal and, at times, rather otherworldly. If you've ever been on the comedy stage, and I have, it's the kind of experience that feels sort of like you're in a fish bowl looking out and seeing the world through a carnival mirror lens. Intentional or not, Penington captures that beautifully.
There's much to love about Funny Fat Guy, though the film does occasionally suffer from its low-budget origins until hitting a home run emotionally and intellectually as it builds toward a truth that those familiar with the comedy scene know is far more honest than we want to admit from those who are paid to make us laugh.
A little gem of a film that captured a top prize at Cupertino, California's Diamond in the Rough Film Festival and continues to make its way through the indie and microfest circuit. If you get a chance, you'll definitely want to check it out.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic