What’s the life of a gay teenager from the Midwest like and why should you care? Fat Girls isn’t about heavyset munchkins hobbling about Wal-Marts. It’s more zen-like, a yardstick by which your claim to existence among the cool clique is measured. Films centered around lifestyle choices can quickly turn to yawn-inducing half-truths but writer-director Ash Christian uses the ‘fat girls’ tenet to raise the ante and helps to give an otherwise anodine yarn like high-school life in rural America substance and wit.
Rodney is a slightly heavy, gay teenager trudging his way to high-school graduation and taking his friend Sabrina, a heavier, and even more awkward, friend along for the ride. In film, divisions across a school’s social scenery are often depicted as razor-sharp: you’re either in the cool camp or you’re not. As it were, Sabrina and Rodney, soon joined by Rudy, a young Cuban who introduces himself to everyone as “I am a Cuban political refugee” with that endearing accent (an obvious reference to Pedro from Napoleon Dynamite), are content forming their own gauche clique.
Ash Christian met Jonathan Caouette, the writer-director of Tarnation in 2005 at a film festival in Texas and the idea for Fat Girls sprung up from that encounter. Tarnation was also Caouette’s first film, a postcard from the edge crowded with home videos and trippy montages depicting his uber-dysfunctional family living in Texas. From the almost-alien world beckoning us, Caouette was able to parlay his rage and frustration into memorable wit and compelling social commentary. And Fat Girls is therefore much informed by Tarnation,–Caouette’s stamp left an indelible mark here. He himself has a part in the film as Mr. Cox, a pliable high-school teacher who takes a liking to Rodney; when Rodney, whose voiceover guides us through his life’s cast of characters introduces Mr. Cox to us, he notes, “Mr. Cox is definitely a Fat Girl.” And though his Cox is far from convincing, Caouette’s presence in Fat Girls further establishes Tarnation’s dictum: wear your non-conformity on your sleeve and be proud of it. And like the overstimulated cast in Shortbus, high-schoolers Rodney and Sabrina are apparently in a constant state of arousal or looking for some gratification. Perhaps, indirectly, films like these help bring to light to some of our own compulsive behavior. And even though it can all be a little sad to watch, elements from Shortbus, Tarnation and even early John Waters make Fat Girls a notable film.