Run Fatboy Run – 2007 (dir. David Schwimmer) I greatly enjoy stories of actors who willfully drop way off the public radar to pursue something they really enjoy. For example: Michael Palin of the Monty Python troupe has done a handful of acting gigs since the group disbanded for good some decades back, but his main passion seems to be travel. Obviously having the BBC bankroll and film your global escapades helps a lot, but he obviously had no intent to cash in on his fame by just taking on whatever projects come his way. The same is true of Friends star David Schwimmer.
Save a particularly memorable role in Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg’s World War 2 miniseries Band of Brothers, Schwimmer has been keeping a very low profile since the show ended in 2004 by working primarily in the theatre and taking some stabs at directing. Run Fatboy Run is his first Directorial effort for the screen, however.
The premise of the film is that Dennis Doyle (Simon Pegg) is a hapless mallcop who made the mistake of leaving his pregnant fiance Libby (Thandie Newton) at the altar five years ago. He’s spent those five years doting on his son (though certainly an atypical father) and running the wrong way in life. See what I just did there? The movie does it, too. After meeting Libby’s new boyfriend, the impossibly perfect Whit (Hank Azaria), Dennis decides that he needs to run a marathon to not just win Libby back, but get his life back on track. Another running metahpor, I know. But the movie’s about running, both literal and metaphorical.
David Schwimmer spent ten years intimately involved on Friends, and it shows. It’s a very economical comedy in a number of ways. Impressively, it never gets too self-involved with it’s own jokes. A good example of this is the lockerroom scene between Pegg and Azaria. A lesser director (and lesser actors) would have made every possible penis joke, but Pegg wisely gives a few choice reactions and Azaria never overplays it. The blister scene seemed out of place at best (especially since it’s a far cry from a gross-out comedy), but it had a number of charming comic moments all the same, as well as one of the funniest fight scenes I’ve seen in a while.
But what really makes a comedy work are the moments that aren’t funny. And the last act of Run Fatboy Run is comprised mainly of these. And it works. Scwimmer tries some clever scenes, and while they’re not flawless, they’re fun to watch, and they keep things interesting. And it shows a lot of promise.
But it’s still a little bit short of being as good as it could have been. I can forgive the Nike product placement, as Schwimmer told the AV Club that it was the only way to finance the marathon, and I don’t really care that Simon Pegg isn’t technically fat. But it wasn’t a total wash, and there’s some good laughs to be had.
Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden? – 2008 (dir. Morgan Spurlock) It’s so easy to call Morgan Spurlock the heir apparent to Michael Moore. Too easy. Both started their documentary careers from an underdog perspective (Moore went after General Motors, and Spurlock went after McDonalds as relative amateurs). And both have worked on the small screen, as well as the big screen (Moore’s The Awful Truth and Spurlock’s 30 Days). And both have political views best described as liberal (Moore’s been incredibly outspoken in his criticism of American conservatism, and Spurlock’s a card-carrying member of the ACLU).
The differences between them are, on paper, minimal. But while Michael Moore is effectively a pundit with a multi-picture deal, Spurlock seems genuinely interested in generating dialogue about the subjects he explores. But perhaps more importantly, Moore’s opinion dictates his films, but with Spurlock, it seems more like his experience is what runs the show. Sure, he doesn’t shy away from presenting opinions, but that’s not his endgame. On 30 days, he tackles heavy political issues head on, but he lets the dialogue between the two groups tell the story. While he’s been accused of picking people who will come to his understanding of the issues, at least he’s presenting the view that most political issues are nowhere near as black and white as the media and politicians present. It’s activist entertainment for moderates, if anything.
And that’s generally what he proposes with Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden. As he attempts to explore the causes and consequences of Osama Bin Laden in Egypt, Morrocco, Israel/Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and Pakistan, it becomes very clear that it’s an immensely complex problem. It’s a bold choice for a follow-up to eating McDonalds for a month to dive right into the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and radical Islam, but the results speak for themselves. Two scenes in particular were disturbing; Spurlock’s appallingly harsh welcome to a Jewish settlement in Israel, and a chilling interview with two Saudi teenagers (under the direct supervision of their teachers). Obviously, those who prefer a black and white view of foreign policy will have difficulty with Spurlock’s conclusion, and American foreign policy takes a lashing, but it’s still an entertaining, if somewhat troubling documentary.