Last Friday I finally got to see Ash Christian’s first feature Fat Girls. It premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival last spring, and is now enjoying popularity at OutFest (in fact, Christian won the "Outstanding Emerging Talent" prize from the fest.) I’m quite relieved to report that Christian’s film features Rodney Miller, a gay teen already quite comfortable with his sexuality, thus successfully side-stepped the overly angsty or saccharine plot devices that tend to swallow films about teenagers whole.
Hailed as "a completely new voice", "young and quirky" and "fresh", I was sort of suprised to see quite a few cliches employed in the film, which gave it a not-so-fresh-feeling. I was also suprised to see the footage looking as though it was shot on Hi-8 with a dirty lens – however, a filmmaker can get away with sub-par production value if the story is interesting and well executed. Every review I’ve read has called this film "Napoleon Dynamite meets (insert quirky film about gay teenagers/outcasts/trashy Texans)", which I suppose is a fair judgement, though I’d argue that Napoleon’s jokes were consistantly smarter. This is not to say that Fat Girls wasn’t funny – on the contrary! It’s very funny, but it was also made by a 20 year old boy that sometimes settles for the easy gag. You may disagree with me, like the audience did, if you think that getting caught by a Sunday school class while performing fellatio is the epitome of comedy. Were I to have made a feature at that age, I can see the final product being on par this one – but as an older and wiser 22 year old, my sense of humor has matured beyond reminding someone that their father called using the bathroom "dropping the kids off at the pool".
The acting is solid over all, despite a particularly wooden delivery by the actor that portrayed Joey, the hot new boy in school. Some of the other performances leaned towards being a tad caricature-ish, but that didn’t hinder them – Deborah Theaker steals every scene she’s in. The flow of the film is fine, though it gets weighed down every now and then by some completely useless scenes that are repeated later and offer no payoff, leading up to a confusing and abrupt ending. Beyond all this, though, the film has a lot of heart and is able to laugh at itself and I can see this becoming a cult hit. I can’t see the film itself experiencing mainstream success, unless people like the citizens of Canton, TX can get over the fact that there are people who participate in homosexuality and there isn’t anything they can do about it (beyond kicking the film crew out of their fair city on account of the subject matter). However, Christian alluded to the fact that this film will enjoy an extended life as a cable television series.
In the end, though, all these arguments feel like useless nitpicking. Ash Christian made a pretty successful feature before he could (legally) drink, which makes it easier to forgive the film’s shortcomings. So congratulations on the success of your first film, Ash – it is almost as good as my directorial debut. Almost.