This film won’t surprise you, but maybe twists and turns are retired and comedy is the new main event.
It’s easy (and fun!) to scoff away at films that recycle old devices and try to pass them off as new. Usually that sort of thing makes me furious…or at least annoyed and/or whiny. But sometimes a movie will follow a path that is so well-worn that we thought surely no one will dare to try to breathe new life into this dead horse, but dare they do. And they fail. Well, some of them do. They fail miserably! But you take a good screenwriter, pair them with a good director, cast some excellent talent, and it’s possible that – storyline be damned! – the dead horse can leap to its feet and run a marathon. Michael Ian Black is the screenwriter in this case. David Schwimmer is the director, and Simon Pegg (among others) is the talent. The dead horse is the “boy wins girl back” romantic comedy trajectory, and the marathon, of course, is Run Fatboy Run. You’ve never seen a more predictable film than this London comedy about a flawed man who made a stupid move five years ago and now has to face his fears and win back the woman of his dreams from his perfect-seeming rival. This is High Fidelity without the ex-girlfriends. This is Mrs. Doubtfire without the disguises. Ocean’s Eleven without the Cloonz. In fact, it’s such a basic plot, that it’s often secondary in other movies to more exciting casino-heist hijinx.
Whether or not they believed their film’s plot to be super simple or groundbreaking and new (I’m going to give the Black/Schwimmer/Pegg combo the benefit of the doubt and assume it was the former), the filmmakers of Run Fatboy Run provided a comfortable, undistracting canvas on which to paint clever dialogue, sight gags, and solid characters. No one’s going to gasp at the outcome of Dennis’s (Pegg) attempt to challenge his ex-fiancee’s new beau (Hank Azaria), nor will they really retain the life lesson that you shouldn’t run away from your problems (duh). But I would bet my summer home in the Hamptons (had I one) that they will remember the naked ass that Gordon (Dylan Moran) randomly keeps hidden under his balcony railings, not to mention the face of Dennis’s son, Jake (Matthew Fenton), when he tells his dad about how his prospective girlfriend looks like a tree-frog. This sort of writing could shine stretched over any basic plot frame: “boy goes out with girl on a bet, falls in love, girl finds out, disaster” or “stuffy teacher tries to make a difference in the ghetto” or “two police partners get over their differences to find out what teamwork is all about.” *
Run Fatboy Run is light as air, just as a romantic comedy should be. It actually does everything a romantic comedy usually does (including a training montage!), only better and with more laughs. It’s no different than its five billion underdog movie predecessors, just…enhanced. Britishly.
*Wait, Hot Fuzz!