Is "Just Friends" Hollywood's attempt to reach out to the obese?
Ordinarily I wouldn't cite an MTV story at this blog, but this one was just too compelling to pass up.
It discusses the not-so-subtle move by Hollywood movie executives to reach out to an audience of people who comprise at least half of the country -- the overweight and obese.
With the recent release of the movie "Just Friends," which is about an overweight guy in high school who had google eyes for a cute blonde loses over 100 pounds and comes back years later to see if she'll have him now, Hollywood sees dollar signs by capitalizing on the theme of weight loss bringing about positive experiences.
I will admit to you that when I saw the trailer for this movie, I couldn't wait to see it. Ever since I lost over 180 pounds thanks to the low-carb lifestyle, I am so compelled by stories of weight loss victory, real or fictional. There is no doubt in my mind that many moviegoers will live vicariously through the lead character played by Ryan Reynolds in the hopes that they too can win the affection of that high school crush who wouldn't have them because they were overweight or obese.
But the MTV story goes even deeper into this issue of making movies about fat people and makes a keen observation that they usually star someone who is anything but fat.
"While a hefty half of Americans are now overweight, it's another element of our society that's not realistically portrayed in films. Obesity is usually played for laughs or tears; either it's the chubby, comic-relief co-worker/best friend or the dangerously heavy victim. You're unlikely to see an overweight actor above the title unless it's part of the plot. And even then, the actor might not fit the part.
You know, the writer of this story is right. Think about the last time you saw an overweight person playing in the lead role of ANY film that did not make an issue of their weight. Hmmmm? Need more time to think? None coming to mind? I couldn't think of any either.
The columnist listed the ancient actor Dom DeLuise from the 70s and 80s and I thought of Danny DeVito from the 80s and 90s, but neither of these men were pitted for lead roles in movies. They were always the fat sidekick used for laughs. In fact, it was DeVito's rotund figure that made him the perfect choice to portray The Penguin in the Batman movie.
Everyone remembers this recent movie:
Who did it star? The ultra-thin actress Gwyneth Paltrow. Who did she play? A 300-pound woman. While I will again admit I LOVED this movie because of the overriding message it contained about loving people for who they are regardless of their size, it is such a shame they had to put a fat suit on Paltrow rather than use an obese actress for the part.
Again, the author of this article points out this fact and believes the producer missed out on a golden opportunity to prove they do not have a double standard on the issue of weight.
"But what's more sinister is the cop-out casting of Paltrow as both Skinny and Fat Rosemary. Almost every other character in the film that's viewed askew by Hal is played by two different people: a traditionally attractive actor and what we've come to call a 'character actor' (a Hollywood euphemism that usually means 'not good-looking enough for lead roles')."
A "fat" Gwyneth Paltrow laughs it up with the Farrelly brothers
He concluded that the "fat" Paltrow is not realistic enough for the audience to connect with the obese person she is playing because everyone knows Paltrow has the sexy curves that she does.
"By burying Paltrow under latex and makeup, the film not only gives us an unconvincing obese girl, it lets the audience off the hook: We're not forced to truly deal with our attitudes toward obesity because we know Gwyneth the actress isn't fat. If Rosemary had been played by someone like, say, Camryn Manheim, the film would've carried far more weight (no pun intended)."
Why isn't Hollywood using real actors and actresses to play the overweight roles in these movies? If half the nation is overweight or obese, then surely there is a good percentage of up-and-coming actors and actresses who are carrying around some extra pounds, too. So use 'em already! Why do we need to hire fat suit makeup artists when the real McCoys are out there?
And when you do give them a role, don't make them these sad basket cases who have no sense of self-worth at all. Many overweight and obese people are strong people who have endured years of physical and mental torture, yet they keep on smiling and living life just like everybody else. They have a real story to tell if their voice is allowed to be heard.
Instead, Hollywood feeds us Eddie Murphy as "The Nutty Professor" or Julia Roberts in "America's Sweetheart." These people wouldn't know what it's like to be a fat person if it smacked them up side the head! That's what makes it so insulting to those of us who have lived the life of an obese person and we KNOW they don't understand.
"To the overweight person sitting in the [movie] audience, the experience must be similar to a black person watching an old blackface minstrel show. When the character is presented as mean-spiritedly as Mike Myers' Fat Bastard character from the 'Austin Powers' movies or scary-thin Courteney Cox-Arquette's Fat Monica from flashback episodes of 'Friends,' it becomes outright torture."
Once again, the MTV writer nails it. The negative stereotypes of fat people continue on because of these kind of characterizations that become such a part of our culture that people believe them whether they are true or not.
Regardless of WHY a person got fat, I believe this form of obvious discrimination is uncalled for in the United States of America today. Telling them to "just lose weight" is a copout because everyone's circumstance and reason for getting that way is different. Why do we stand for this blatant disregard for human life by allowing fat people to be mocked and scorned because of the size of their waistlines? Is this not the same thing that other races fought against during the civil rights era? Can somebody please explain to me what the difference is?
So what should we make of Hollywood trying to suck up to the obese? Are they being sincere in trying to connect with an audience that has grown tired of storylines featuring grossly thin actresses falling for the hunky Hollywood leading man? There's no telling what their motive is, but you can bet they are hoping to cash in on this genre of movie.
If "Just Friends" is successful, then look for even more "fat" feature films in the future. Maybe they'll try using REAL actors and actresses sometime. Gee, that'd be a novel concept! Let me know what you think about "Just Friends" if you have seen it.
11-29-05 UPDATE: A link to this post appeared on a blog called Big Fat Deal by someone who goes by the name "piegirl."
Here's a picture of her eating a cookie:
She describes "Livin' La Vida Low-Carb" as "the king of the self-promoting blog." Uh, okay. Call what I do here what you want, but it made you come here didn't it, piegirl? :)
"Pie Girl" was gracious enough to write back to clarify her comments:
"Hi! It was meant very affectionately, by the way. The picture of me eating a cookie is hilarious. Love it."
THANKS, Pie Girl! I appreciate your support and welcome you back here anytime!