‘Lbs.’ — uneven but emotionally hefty
The food-addiction film Lbs., a feature debut for its screenwriter and star, Carmine Famiglietti, and director Matthew Bonifacio, is uneven in pretty much every respect. Its plot and characterizations are threadbare and, early on, confusing. A number of scenes seem amateurish and improvised, as if still in rehearsal stage, or a tad overwrought. Its editing is sometimes off-kilter–a few moments just kind of peter out or have the door slammed on them. The musical score, while resonant and fairly sophisticated in parts, sounds canned and last-minute in others. And so on.
For all that, though, Lbs. is worth seeing, for its own raw, wobbly, indy integrity; and for some stretches of truly fine acting, especially by Famiglietti as the protagonist, Neil; Michael Aronov, superb as Neil’s coke-addicted friend Sacco; and Miriam Shor, as a fickle love interest, Lara. The tortured history of this 2004 movie’s conception, execution, and release is a head-scratching plot line in and of itself. (See the Road to Release section of the film’s Web site.) Suffice to say that Famiglietti is playing a character drawn more than casually from his own dramatically shape-shifting, obesity-battling experiences.
After a serious health scare and a bruising lambast by his brother-in-law, twentysomething school-bus driver Neil realizes that to gain control over his health and his life he needs to flee his loving, supportive, but suffocatingly enabling Brooklyn family and neighborhood. He heads upstate, buys a bit of land with a crappy little trailer, and tries to rediscover himself beneath his flesh, walking and pedaling and salad-slimming the pounds off in the process. At first, he tries to do so in partnership with Sacco, but two men desperately trying to save themselves far from their natural urban habitat quickly prove not to be the most constructive companions. So Neil must go his physical and existential journey mostly alone, with only the fleeting sunlight of Lara’s affection and the encouragement of a kind real-estate agent (Eric Leffler).
The script, despite its problems, avoids tipping into castaway-flick paroxysms–though Neil does interview himself, attempts ice fishing, and chats with his snowman before gobbling its carrot nose. Even in the depths of his solitude, Neil remembers how to make civil chitchat over a CB radio, and, back in the city, shows that he’s retained his love not just of fried carbohydrates, but of abundant hair gel too. For the most part, the story also dodges soap-operaish bathos–some overplayed mama drama being the unfortunate exception.
Between Famiglietti and Aronov, there’s a winning early John Favreau-Vince Vaughan type of chemistry (I’m thinking of Swingers, another spotty but memorable indy breakout). And though Lbs.’s plot, despite its original and clearly hard-won particulars, is formulaic in many respects, Aronov digs beyond that for some instants that will shake you.
Whether one’s demon is linguine, ice cream, nicotine, gin, cocaine, sex, or, um, movies, we’ve all got our Sirens, right? So as Neil seeks the hero beneath the adipose, it’s a quest each of us can identity with. Enjoy it with some popcorn, even, but make it a small, maybe–and hold the butter.