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That’s fat with an F, bitches

At one point in Fat Girls, our hero (Rodney) has gone to his very first gay bar with his very first crush: a rebel-without-a-cause Australian guy who quickly ditches him to go blow Bob Random in the men’s room.

Disappointed–and perhaps more importantly bored–Rodney’s getting ready to leave when a drag performer takes the stage, busting out a pitch-perfect Liza-with-a-Z right there in front of him. Despite the heavy makeup and the jazzy gown, Rodney makes her as his drama teacher, Mr. Cox: a friendly, earnest man of infinite sherbet-coloured cardigans and social responsibility.

Rodney’s never seen a drag queen before. (It’s entirely possible that he’s never even heard of them. It’s 2006 and he’s still watching porno on VHS.)

Standing there, watching this magnificent Liza, this reordering of everything he thought he knew about his favourite teacher, this last-minute resurrection from what he thought was one of the worst nights of his young life, he stares at her, gobsmacked, mouth half-smiling and half agape, eyes bright with tears.

It’s the most perfect, most authentic expression of wonder and joy that I’ve ever seen in any movie. And it’s here of all places: in this cheap indie fairy tale that’s been compared unfavourably (and unfairly) to Napoleon Dynamite.

But if this is the sort of thing you like, you’ll fall in love with Fat Girls long before you get to that scene.

Here’s the deal:

Rodney’s a drama nerd and unapologetic spaz, living with his devout Christian parents in a tiny town in Texas.

His father advertises his faith as a feature of his plumbing business; his mother is active in the church and chooses meals for her family based on whether or not she can give them some sort of Biblical slant. (“You want Holy Hamburgers or Christly Cheeseburgers?”) They have a light-up electric Nativity scene on their lawn year-round.

(The Christianity thing is played for laughs, but not meanly, I promise. It’s a language barrier situation more than anything.)

They’re the only people in town who don’t know Rodney’s gay, except maybe for Rodney himself. He watches gay porno, he trades handjobs with a classmate on the DL and he has a huge crush on the aforementioned Australian guy (who Rodney insists is English, no matter how many times the dude says g’day) but for the longest time he won’t even admit it to his best friend.

That would be Sabrina, an actual fat girl–as opposed to Rodney’s looser idea of the term. She’s an angry baby hipster/Goth with two mommies who’s comfortable enough with herself not only to give her body to a chubby chaser, but also to get down and funky with him in the front seat of his old VW Beetle, right there in the street.

(At no time does the movie give the impression that she’s with him because she thinks he’s the best she can do. She’s with him despite the chubby chaser thing, not because of it. As someone who has a case of Teh Chubbeez, I think that’s pretty awesome.)

Rodney and Sabrina spend most of their time together both in an out of school: doing volunteer work, getting shitty on vodka and jumping on his bed, whatevs.

Their interaction is very familiar to me: Rodney’s grossed out by the stories of her sexploits–she’s like a sister to him, for god’s sake–and when she mentions her weight, he says “You’re not fat,” without even thinking about it.

For her part, Sabrina calls him on his shit, every single time, and if she thinks there’s anything weird about him dragging around a big lavender tote bag that doubles as his Total Nobodies Autograph Book, she’ll never tell a soul.

There’s no sort of dramatic arc in Fat Girls, no trace of the mounting tension or sense of dread you might feel watching a different kind of gay-themed coming-of-age film: no substance abuse or crying or anyone getting their ass kicked every day.

It’s just a series of sweet, funny vignettes taking place in the weeks before Rodney and Sabrina graduate from high school, before they have to make some sort of declaration about who they are and how they’re going to live their lives:

· Rodney sings his awful new song for an actress in a nursing home (I liiiiike to eat French fries, even if they’re baaaaad…);
· Rodney huffs his guidance counsellor’s Wite-Out and makes a necklace out of her paperclips while he waits for her to make time for him–and wears this necklace everywhere for the rest of the movie;
· Rodney’s Mom has church friends over for a social group and accidentally shows them one of Rodney’s porno flicks instead of Kirk Cameron’s Left Behind movie. (“‎I don’t think Kirk Cameron would take a buddy for coffee and then for a ride on the Hershey Highway.”)

That’s what I meant when I called it a fairy tale: out of all the people Rodney knows, only one guy ever calls him a fag, and it is a big fucking deal. Stripped of all the fear and pain and doubt that’s associated with so many coming out stories, all that’s left is the funny stuff.

It’s not very realistic, but you don’t want that every time.

So why is it called Fat Girls? As Rodney explains, you don’t have to be fat to be a fat girl. You don’t even have to be a girl. It’s a state of mind, a state of being. It’s about being comfortable in your own skin, and caring more about that than what anybody thinks of who you are or what you look like.

It’s a bad old world out there, and no matter what you do, someone’s always going to say you’re doing it wrong. But when all’s said and done, the only carcass you have to haul around is your own. You might as well make your peace with it, baby.

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Melodie Ladner lives and works in the Greater Vancouver area, and is probably eating something unhealthful out of a bag at this very moment.

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6 Responses to “That’s fat with an F, bitches”

  1. kormantic says:

    Now this is a film that is, in fact, made for me. Oh, paperclip necklace kid, you’re my sweetheart!

  2. Penni says:

    I’m in love with this movie without seeing it. Can’t wait to get my hands on it!!

  3. matt says:

    Just fixed some formatting wackness on this post (sorry about that — it’s been a rough morning).

    Also, Ashley Fink is totally the girl who plays Lauren on Glee! 1) I am confident enough in my own masculinity to admit I know this, and 2) we will be watching this movie immediately.

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