Directed by Matthew Bonifacio
Given the, ahem, outsized importance that obesity has taken in the health care debate and a myriad of social issues, it’s a little surprising that movies have yet to really tackle the issue, preferring instead to hide behind cheap jokes or ignore it altogether. Serendipitously arriving amid a very public (and long overdue) campaign against childhood obesity from Michelle Obama, Lbs. is a bold and sobering look at eating disorders, an unflinching account of one man’s arduous struggle with weight loss.
Much of the credit must go to Carmine Famiglietti, who co-wrote and stars as Neil Perota, a dangerously overweight man who impulsively decides to move into a trailer upstate in a last-ditch effort to slim down after a near-fatal heart attack. But a Walden-esque existence of hiking and fishing is only half the appeal. Neil knows that to make any progress he must leave his family and all the ridicule and caloric temptation they represent. Famiglietti is completely without ego in his brave, convincing performance.
Journeying with Neil is his friend Sacco (Michael Aronov), a cokehead who is more than a little dubious of the plan, thinking he can manage his dependency without such drastic measures. Together, the two have one of the more illuminating scenes in recent film, where they argue over who is having the harder withdrawal. Neil makes a surprisingly strong case for himself: there’s no going cold turkey when it comes to food, and while the official view for drug use is that it’s wrong, it retains some underground allure. “Not even Elvis could make fat cool,” he says.
It may seem extreme to compare burgers to cocaine, but not here. These are Neil’s drugs of choice, and scenes with nauseatingly large meals are edited in a way that echoes Requiem for a Dream.
Despite that, director Matthew Bonifacio mostly keeps sensationalism to a minimum. Though there are plenty of laughs and inspirational moments, he’s honest enough to acknowledge that weight coming off doesn’t mean the battle has been won. This film almost single-handedly makes a case for overeating as an addiction on par with drugs or alcohol.
Leaving the screening, I overheard someone describe Lbs. as “food porn.” If that’s true, then so is this line, often attributed to Woody Allen: “after watching porn for 10 minutes, all I wanted to do is have sex. After 30 minutes, I never wanted to have sex again in my life.”