The “girls” of the title aren’t the literal kind, along the lines of last year’s Mo’Nique disaster “Phat Girlz.” No, this film uses plus-sized ladies as a metaphor for the struggles of the average gay teen, and how he/she copes with the daily rituals of humiliation as they struggle to find themselves in a sea of doubt.
Rodney (Ash Christian) is a high school senior trapped in a house of religious worship trying to untangle his “alternative lifestyle,” as his guidance counselor puts it. Rodney finds comfort in his obese best friend, Sabrina (Ashley Fink), who is also coming to terms with her identity. Now winding down the school year, Rodney is dead set on pushing the limits of his sexuality, giving himself over to a more experienced classmate and hoping for a brighter future as a Broadway stage star.
Pulling triple duty is writer/director/star Ash Christian, who cartwheels through “Fat Girls” as though his life depends on it. It’s an impressive display of directorial and performance energy, and that very spark is what maintains an air of quality to the film in the face of overwhelmingly poor production value and amateur cinematography. Seriously, the film looks as though it was shot with a PXL 2000, with image quality varying wildly from scene to scene.
Attempting to hurdle the $1.98 he had to make “Fat Girls,” Christian uses the greatest weapon in his arsenal: the universal pain of being awkward in high school. Casting all sorts of actors who expertly sell the grind of adolescence, Christian nails the peeved spirit of educational jail with astounding accuracy. Perhaps years of seeing high school ironed out into a Stepford “OC” factory has numbed me to the glare of a teenager at complete war with their body, but this renewed peek at awkward wonder years gave me a thrill.
Competing with the absence of a plot and the aforementioned technical limitations, Christian has nonetheless carved himself out a sharply observed indie siren that pays light attention to matters of identity and sexuality. At the same time, he hustles up some teen-centric comedy bits that range from horrifyingly miscalculated (Sabrina gets stuck trying to have sex in her car, necessitating the use of butter to dislodge her) to genuine and appealing (Rodney’s growing pains are colorfully captured in Christian’s performance).
“Fat Girls” doesn’t force itself on the audience, especially with the temptation of body image and burgeoning sexuality dangled in front of Christian like bait. He plays it cool, preferring to love his characters first, and use them as teaching tools second. The restraint is a refreshing change of pace.Rating: B