Never in a million years would have I imagined that what I saw tonight would have sprung from the minds of those that brought it to me.
When one thinks of the off-kilter, sometimes very bizarre comedy of Michael Ian Black (a writer and performer on the television shows The State and Viva Variety) and the geek-centric, genius-level parody of Simon Pegg (Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz), odds are you’re not thinking that the two would work together to create a heartwarming, adorable romantic comedy about a man trying to prove himself to his ex-fiancee and his son by running and completing a marathon. But that’s exactly what Run Fatboy Run is. Neither weird nor coming within fifty miles of making a direct reference to another film, this seems to play outside the safety zones of both Pegg and Black. And yet together, under the direction of TV’s Ross (David Schwimmer –- don’t pretend you didn’t know which Ross I was talking about), the result is a delightfully endearing piece of modern, mainstream, even somewhat predictable, comedy.
And I loved every minute.
It was no secret that Schwimmer was going to attempt to become the Jonathan Frakes of the Friends troupe, having directed a dozen different episodes of the long-running series. But unlike Frakes (who went from starring on and directing episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation to directing gawd-awful children’s fare like Clockstoppers and Thunderbirds), Schwimmer comes out swinging with one hell of a directorial debut. Sure, it isn’t particularly cutting-edge or career redefining. Instead it plays to his strengths and to the audience most apt to seek out his work. Friends, after all, was a weekly episodic romantic comedy that only began to run out of steam once every permutation possible between the cast members had been played out. So Schwimmer took everything he learned on that long-running show and funneled that into a real crowd-pleaser of a comedy.
Rather than focusing upon the standard boy-meets-girl/boy-loses-girl/boy-gets-girl back formula, Run Fatboy Run is entirely about the getting girl back portion of the film. As the film opens, Dennis (Simon Pegg) is leaving his pregnant fiancee at the altar. Cut to five years later and his life is in shambles. The love of his life has found someone else and his son might find himself with a new and more together father. So he envisions the only thing he can to win his family back – run in the same marathon as his ex-fiancee’s new suitor.
But as the film wears on, it becomes less about winning back the girl and more about winning her and their son’s respect. Even as it seems that he may never win her back, the film focuses upon the transformation taking place within Dennis as he realizes what he’s really fighting for.
Sound like you’ve heard it all before? Sure you have. In fact, watch this long enough and you can even guess the ending in a called shot that probably won’t impress anyone you know. But romantic comedies aren’t about where you end up. They’re entirely about how you get there. And it is the how you get there that makes this something special. Here we have two comic talents (Black and Pegg) trying their hand at mainstream comedy (including gross-out jokes, swearing granny/youngster jokes, and a whole bevy of Jerky New Boyfriend jokes) and in doing so shows you how they’re done. They don’t try for the joke-a-minute formula. Instead they focus on solid, laugh out loud jokes that just plain work. And even if you don’t laugh, they refuse to let you roll your eyes. It is razor sharp wit that doesn’t require a razor sharp mind to enjoy it.
That’s not to say that this movie aims low. Sure, it’s more accessible than either of the writers is accustomed to and more along the lines of what Schwimmer is good at, but it hits everything that it aims for. It is careful, well-crafted comedy that will appeal to a broad audience. But it doesn’t reinvent the wheel. If you’re the type of person looking for something new, you won’t find it here. But it had the crowd cheering as much as they were laughing, and that’s never a bad thing. About as solid as a film like this can be, it comes pretty well recommended.