A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Fat Boy Chronicles deals with some harsh truths about teen obesity and bullying. Other issues touched upon are teen "cutting," alcoholic parents, murder, suicide, and depression. The hero is a 14-year-old boy in his first year of high school, so the messages delivered will have meaning to many young teens. However, the execution is weak, and some issues raised are given very little time. As a result, important teen dilemmas end up getting sketchy and one-dimensional treatment. Actual violence (pushing, grabbing an overweight boy's chest, a hard slap) and language issues ("ugly," "stupid," "fatty," "boobs") are relatively mild, but extensive humiliation, cruelty, and heartbreak are the prominent elements that move the story.
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What's the story?
In THE FAT BOY CHRONICLES, already self-conscious and lonely 14-year-old Jimmy (Christian Rivera) starts high school in a new neighborhood. It's just what he expected -- some of the kids immediately start teasing him about his weight, especially his "man boobs." Constant bullying isn't far behind. Jimmy takes refuge at lunch in the school cafeteria, sitting by another fat kid and Sable, a girl whose goth appearance sets her apart, too. His loving parents and a kind doctor try to help him, but they can't. Things go from bad to worse; his only consolation is a growing attraction to Sable and the company of his best friend, Paul, who has remained at his old school. But those two have major issues as well. Tentatively, through a journal assignment and growing awareness that he's the only person who can alter his situation, Jimmy takes steps to change his life and his feelings about himself.
Is it any good?
What works in this film is Jimmy. As portrayed by the likable Christian Rivera, the character's dilemma is poignant. Young audiences can't help but empathize with him and, in doing so, take his situation to heart. Their compassion for the underdog and willingness to stand up for kids like Jimmy may be enhanced. However, not certain that the teen's story would stand on its own, or believing that the drama would be heightened by the inclusion of multiple other elements, the filmmakers added much more: teen cutting, parental alcoholism, an unsolved murder, a suicide, a boy's disappearance, and a football player's lack of confidence. All are underdeveloped concepts, relegated to a few scenes or portions of scenes and minimal, if any, resolution. The worst of these is a ludicrous subplot that finds Jimmy and his friend using Jimmy's sister as bait to catch the murderer. It's all scatter-shot, trivialized, badly conceived, and poorly executed. The writers and director could have used a surer hand and more professional help to bring this story, based on a book and "inspired by a true story," to life.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how bullying has become an important issue in our culture. What changes have you noticed either in bullying itself or in kids' response to bullying as a result of it being part of our nation's conversation? How has your own awareness changed?
In this film, most of the students witnessing Jimmy's humiliation laugh along with the bullies. How can the "witnesses" change the bullying landscape in schools?
Mrs. Pope's journal requirement ends up making a lot of sense to Jimmy. Try creating a journal for yourself for one week. Then see how you feel about writing down your thoughts, knowing no one else may ever read them.
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