I loved the way this film begins. Not happily, but unexpectedly. First, we see Troy Billings (Jacob Wysocki), shirtless and fat, getting out of bed and ready for school in Seattle, where he lives. At school, he is subjected to a few minor embarrassments – eating by himself in the cafeteria, getting the brush-off from someone he waves to in the hallway.
In other words, a typical day in the life of a 17 year old fat kid, I’d imagine.
What happens next is very much not typical. Walking back home, he throws himself in front of a bus. Fortunately, he is shoved out of the way by a good samaritan. The good samaritan’s name is Marcus (Matt O’Leary), a homeless junkie who happens to go to Troy’s school.
The two strike up a friendship. Things get better. And worse. Troy has issues — he’s got no real friends, his dad doesn’t connect with him, and he’s suffering the loss of his mother — but Marcus may be more screwed up than Troy. The first words he utters upon saving Troy and rolling off of him: “Gah, what do you weigh, like 400 lbs? It’s like running into a snowplow, man,” before suggesting that he be paid $20 for his troubles. Troy only has $13. “Perfect,” says Marcus, “you owe me seven.”
Later, they decide to put together a punk rock band despite the fact that Troy can’t play an instrument, and Marcus uses Troy’s home as a place to crash when he’s desperate. In return, Marcus teaches Troy about punk rock and in doing so, gives Troy an outlet to vent his frustrations.
The script here is mostly solid and so is the directing. First time director Matthew Lillard plays with our heads to remarkable effect in some scenes. Troy is written as a prolific daydreamer, who imagines alternate realities in place of the drab reality he inhabits. Lillard cleverly inserts these fantasies and imagined horrors into his film, so that sometimes we’re not quite sure what is real and what isn’t.
As for the acting: Jacob Wysocki does an admirable job as the mopey, dreamy Troy, but it’s O’Leary’s Marcus who truly rules the world here. He’s equally comfortable on stage with a guitar as he is a glassy-eyed junkie rooting through Troy’s bathroom for pills. Trying to teach Troy the true spirit of punk rock, he takes to graffiti-ing the wall of his new friend’s bedroom, and draws on Troy’s pants, before stapling them to the wall. Troy looks on, disbelieving. “I’m dead,” he says.
Some criticisms. A few of the members of the supporting cast are weak and one dimensional, including the two high school students who befriend Troy in the end. This is not the case with Jacob’s dad, played by Billy Campbell, whose portrayal of a tough but loving ex-military dad is solid; I looove that Lillard has Troy’s dad leave up the pants stapled to the wall even if he disapproves of the whole business (the idea here is that the father is decent enough to be able to see some of the good that Marcus is having on his son). Also the ending is a let-down, glib, tidy, and cheerful, but not convincing. ****