Dir. David Schwimmer, UK/US, 2007, 95 mins
Cast: Simon Pegg, Thandie Newton, Hank Azaria, Dylan Moran, Harish Patel, Matthew Fenton
Review by Jean Lynch
There is a moment during Run Fat Boy Run when the realisation hits that Simon Pegg is actually far more than just a great comedy actor – he’s a great actor full stop. From ‘Big Train’ and ‘Spaced’ to Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, via turns in ‘Band of Brothers’, ‘Black Books’ and ‘Dr Who’, Pegg has consistently taken what should be unsympathetic characters and persuaded audiences to root for his underachieving underdogs, injecting them with just the right mix of innocence, irony and vulnerability, stopping just nicely short of maudlin and schmaltz. In Fat Boy he’s Dennis, the commitment-phobe slob who left his pregnant girlfriend Libby (Newton) at the altar five years ago and hasn’t really changed since then. It’s full credit to Pegg’s everyman abilities and appeal that the audience is with him all the way on this journey.
Five years on, Dennis is an out-of-condition security guard for a ladies retail store whom even stiletto-wearing, knicker-stealing six-foot transvestites can run circles around. Somewhat surprisingly, he maintains an amicable relationship with Libby as she allows him to be a part of like for Jake, the now gappy-toothed son he abandoned.
Dennis’ life would most likely have continued to tick by in such a fashion had Libby not met Whit (Azaria), a handsome, charming professional from the City. The guy is great with Jake, much to Dennis’ annoyance, and the new couple are also clearly enjoying lots of late night exercise. Realising he could be about to lose the woman he always loved and the son he adores, and desperate to prove he’s every bit as as good as his American rival, Dennis foolhardily tells Whit that he will join him in running a marathon. Helping him keep that resolve are Gordon (Moran), his best friend and Libby’s cousin, who makes a bet with his poker gang that Dennis will finish the race, and Mr Ghoshdashtidar, the landlord Dennis rarely pays, who takes on the role of trainer, brandishing a fierce-looking spatula with which to keep Dennis in hand.
After the success of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, Pegg is starting to be burdened by high expectations from his audience. Leaving behind buddy Nick Frost, Pegg takes a tentative step away from the tried and tested formula. Coupled instead with director David Schwimmer’s goldstar sitcom background (and given the millions of adoring ‘Friends’ fans for whom he will forever be Ross, Schwimmer is also under the utmost pressure to deliver), we have in Run Fat Boy Run a wonderfully British film, with British humour and yet which allows itself to embrace trademark American sentimentality without wallowing in it. It is a feelgood movie that allows the humour to develop naturally from the plot rather than seeking to play it for laughs and, in doing so, makes for a terrific hybrid of British and American sensibilities. Let’s call it Forrest Gump (that film’s accidental hero who was told ‘run Forest run’ is surely being referenced here) meets Notting Hill. One of the main arguments about the film has been the fact that Newton’s Libby would ever allow someone like Dennis to impregnate her in the first place but it’s a storyline that’s certainly a lot more believable than a bookselling Hugh Grant and worldwide superstar Julia Roberts getting it together, both in terms of plot and the characters themselves.
Schwimmer clearly knows his stuff and coaxes terrific performances from his cast, deftly avoiding the stereotypes - irritating sweet child, helpless female, idiot friend - that the characters so easily could have been in lesser hands. But make no mistake, as both star and re-writer of what was orginally a story set in the States, this is Pegg's movie. He may be particularly adept at being the doe-eyed, expressive and exasperated everyman, but watch carefully and see how he deceptively dominates his every scene. Here is the first of the Brits who - following such American comedy counterparts as Robin Williams and Jim Carey - can rightly lay claim to stepping out of the realm of funny actor to great actor, and as for Fat Boy - it deserves to run and run.