Lbs. is unquestionably the Citizen Kane of films about compulsive overeating, which makes it a very large fish thrashing around in a minuscule puddle. But while the creative tandem of writer/director Matthew Bonifacio and writer/star Carmine Famiglietti deserves a round of applause for bringing this neglected subject to the screen (wrapped in a fairly entertaining narrative package, no less), their efforts are noticeably hindered by the anchors of cable-access aesthetics, mawkish musical interludes, ill-conceived fantasy sequences, and other contrived devices which keep the final product from reaching its considerable potential. Like a yo-yo dieter, the constitution of the film fluctuates wildly, from eye-opening moments of unprecedented candor and audacity to eye-rolling instances of embarrassing melodrama and montage. Ordinarily, these moments of cinematic filler might provide a welcome opportunity to refill your popcorn bucket, but it may be tough for anyone to maintain their appetite while observing protagonist Neil Perota’s tortuous efforts to conquer his obsession with food.
Hopefully it’s not revealing too much about the film to say that Robert De Niro’s legendary preparation for Raging Bull no longer looks so impressive after seeing Famiglietti’s performance as Perota, a beefy Brooklyn man who cannot stop himself from inhaling vast quantities of pasta and Twinkies, even after a near-fatal heart attack. Neil’s stay in the hospital coincides with his sister’s meticulously planned dream wedding, which she chooses to cancel rather than celebrate without her beloved brother, but tempers flare when the makeup ceremony is ruined by a downpour. After an unfortunate scene of Neil sitting in the rain and pondering the folly of his ways, complete with a doleful piano score, he absconds to the boondocks of upstate New York, where he launches an extreme diet away from the enabling presence of the local pizzeria and his mother’s sumptuous cooking.
Neil is soon joined by his best friend, Sacco, played with requisite urban wit by Michael Aronov, who is battling his own addiction to cocaine. While Neil’s complex problems with food and family are successfully elucidated throughout the film, Sacco’s suffering remains entirely enigmatic, aside from a few offhand remarks he makes about his dysfunctional parents. But the chemistry between Sacco and Neil is irresistible, whether they are clowning around with each other or elevating an argument about their respective addictions into an inept physical altercation. When Sacco bolts back to the city, the film loses its most magnetic presence, forcing the filmmakers to kill some time with a series of tired musical montages, including an agonizing sequence featuring a Bob Dylan derivative crooning not one, but two full verses of a tune detailing life’s hardships with symbolic specificity. In another scene, careful listeners will even discern the presence of a xylophone.
But after dispersing with this monotony, the film (somewhat) regains its former compelling shape as Neil’s diet begins to pay dividends while he battles a memorable case of cabin fever, brought on by spending the winter alone in his dilapidated trailer. The film’s primary interest is in witnessing Neil’s arduous transformation, not only in body, but in mind and personality, as he confronts the nightmare of counteracting his own mental instincts in order to induce the body of his dreams. As he attempts to weigh the value of his health and wellness versus his happiness and well-being, he confronts questions that cannot be answered collectively, which is why they must be addressed individually, and the film works well to enact some profound thoughts in the audience. Is it worth surrendering your mind to improve your body? How should one react when the very sustenance of life becomes poisonous? In the end, some misguided xylophone is probably a small price to pay for access to such philosophy.
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- Released: 2004
- Review: Lbs. is unquestionably the Citizen Kane of films about compulsive overeating, which makes it a very large fish thrashing around in a minuscule puddle. But while the creative tandem of writer/director Matthew Bonifacio and writer/star Carmine Famiglietti de… (more)