Posted by: Joe English | November 11, 2008

Movie Review: Run, Fat Boy, Run

run-fat-boy-runThe movie Run, Fat Boy, Run might not be technically very astute when it comes to running, but it brings some good laughs to the subject of training for a marathon. And, in its more poignant moments, it actually provides a bit of insight into some of the reasons that might actually propel a person to take on a the marathon challenge in the first place.

Directed by David Schwimmer of Friends fame, the film stars Simon Pegg, Thandie Newton and Hank Azaria. Simon Pegg plays Dennis Doyle, who in the opening sequence of the film, leaves his bride to be at the altar on their wedding day — and with her expecting their child no less. Five years later, we are re-introduced to Dennis, who is now working as a security guard in a women’s underwear store, smoking too much, and having added a big round belly at his middle.

His ex Libby (Thandie Newton), meanwhile, has moved on with her life and is doing well with a new boyfriend named Whit played by Hank Azaria. Whit seems to be a good guy: rich, handsome, and doing his best to get in with Libby’s son. He is also a devoted marathon runner, training for an upcoming race just a few weeks in the future.

Dennis, hitting bottom in his life, decides that he’ll run the marathon too — mostly to show Libby that he’s changed, by becoming more disciplined and sticking with something for once in his life.

The comedy starts in earnest when Dennis begins his training with his two coaches, his good friend who has bet a large amount of money on his finishing the race, and his landlord Mr. Goshdashtidar. One of the funniest exchanges comes as Dennis is forced out onto one of his first training runs and questions Mr. Goshdashtidar as to what qualifications he has to be the Assistant Coach: “I have the spatula!” he answers, thwacking hard him on the butt to get him moving.

Serious runners will have to let many of the details go as Dennis mounts a get-in-shape routine and has only three weeks to get ready for his marathon. But thankfully, the story plays out in a such a way that Dennis’ marathon isn’t easy on race day, so his fitness or lack thereof really doesn’t come into play.

One of the unpleasantly true aspects of the story is marathon runner boyfriend Whit’s public display of pride and self-righteousness over his marathon running. At one point in the movie, he looks out longingly at the view from his house and talks about how in just two days he’ll be crossing the finish-line once again in another marathon. It’s a sort of grotesque indulgence that will hit close to home for some runners and have them thinking, ‘Oh, I hope I don’t sound like that.’

I do warn all runners to overlook the two or three minutes where the film really looses its way during the running of the actual marathon. The script, which is funny and true throughout most of the film, takes a bad turn in which our two heroes catch up to, and pass, the “elite” runners at the front — elite runners who are jogging about 9 minute per mile pace in a big gaggle all together. But you can chalk this up to the same kind of film-making fall-downs as when you see a person improperly giving mouth-to-mouth in films or not actually getting hit by a rain of bullets being sprayed at them from a dozen gunmen ten feet away. Thankfully, the story quickly moves on an takes a turn for the better.

Perhaps the most poignant moment in the film comes when Dennis “hits the wall” late in the marathon and director Schwimmer actually does a nice job of helping us picture that moment, by placing an actual brick-wall across the road to help us visualize the true nature of “the wall.” I can see this visual coming up in many a training lecture in the future as people use this image to capture the essence of hitting and then dealing with the wall.

The film also does a nice job of taking us from the space of “why would you run a marathon” to giving us an answer as a case-study on what might drive one person to do so. In the early parts of the film a number of people, when told Dennis running marathon answer quickly, “why would you do that?” Later, they embrace him from trying to complete this task as a way of showing that he can get his life back on track. This is likely truer than most of us would like to let on for many first-time marathon runners.

Placing the technical faults aside, the movie is light and funny. My advice is to go into it expecting a comedy and then just to sit back and enjoy it. It’s a fun ride with some good laughs and a heart-warming story to boot.

Run, Fat Boy, Run is now available on DVD.

Coach Joe English, Portland Oregon, USA
Managing Editor, Running Advice and News


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