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Toronto Film Festival: Movies About Fat People

Photo of John Anderson By John Anderson | Thompson on Hollywood September 12, 2013 at 10:05AM

The generously proportioned, so to speak, are having a moment in the autumnal sun, courtesy of the Toronto Film Festival, where the subject of fat people is kinda blowing up, in a medium that usually promotes the idea that eating is sinning, and that any worthwhile woman can be outweighed by her handbag.
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James Gandolfini and Julia Louis-Dreyfus in 'Enough Said'
James Gandolfini and Julia Louis-Dreyfus in 'Enough Said'

The generously proportioned, so to speak, are having a moment in the autumnal sun, courtesy of the Toronto Film Festival, where the subject of fat people is kinda blowing up, in a medium that usually promotes the idea that eating is sinning, and that any worthwhile woman can be outweighed by her handbag.

While men always have it easier, even  the late James Gandolfini takes some heat about his tonnage in Nicole Holofcener’s “Enough Said” – his character Albert’s failure to lose weight has led to the breakup of his marriage to Marianne (Catherine Keener), and becomes an issue during his courtship of Eva (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), and it feels odd but right that the issue is confronted so bluntly.

But as forthright as Holofcener is, she’s got nothing on debuting writer-director Mark Phinney and “Fat,” which features a utterly ballsy performance by Mel Rodriguez, and is as frank a portrait of morbid obesity as has ever been brought to the screen (Matthew Bonifacio’s “lbs.” of 2004, starring Carmine Famigletti, was good but a relative day at the beach). Rodriguez lays it all on the line about the obsessive eater -- the self-loathing, the addiction, the regret, the hopelessness -- and while the whole thing is a bit relentless, it’s a brave, brave movie.

Far more gentle, and palatable, is Mexican director Mariana Chenillo’s “Paraiso,” about a happily married fat couple, Carmen and Alfredo, who have good sex, eat what they want and enjoy a kind of chubby suburban paradise (see title) until they move to Mexico City, where Carmen overhears Alfredo’s female co-workers making fun of them, and decides to lose weight. However: When she drags Alfredo to the diet center, it’s he who slims down, buys new clothes, and starts attracting admiring glances. The marriage becomes a fallen soufflé.

Oddly enough, or maybe not, Ulrich Seidl’s latest is also called “Paradise,” albeit in German. “Paradies: Hoffnung (Paradise: Hope)” follows his “Paradise: Love” about overweight white women looking for love on the beaches of Kenya. In “Hope,” Melanie (Melanie Lenz), the plus-size teenage daughter of “Love’s” Teresa, is sent by her mother to a diet camp in the farlflung Austrian countryside, where she struggles with food and develops a crush on a 40-year-old doctor. Seidl is a master of the overripe observation and there’s plenty to observe, to think about, regarding body image, western culture’s unrealistic standards of beauty, and our skewed perception of “normal” – although it may be a sign of increased mental health that these directors, at least, are making the issue such a central one.

This article is related to: Toronto, Reviews, Reviews, Enough Said, Festivals


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.