Seattle-set ‘Fat Kid’ shows a real understanding of teenagers

One of the pleasant aspects of “The Descendants” was the unexpectedly graceful performance by Matthew Lillard as the guy who’d been having an affair with George Clooney’s wife. A brief role, but Lillard managed to catch the good/bad, funny/serious mode of Alexander Payne’s film just right.

Wait — Matthew Lillard? That big goofy guy who plays Shaggy in the “Scooby-Doo” movies?

Yes, that Matthew Lillard. And it might be a reach to draw a line between the films, but there’s something in “Fat Kid Rules the World,” which Lillard directed, that has a tone close to the world of Alexander Payne, not in its setting (Seattle’s punk-rock world) but in the way it treats characters as full, difficult human beings.

“Fat Kid,” which played earlier this year at the Seattle International Film Festival, is based on a novel by K.L. Going that Lillard has long nurtured as a directing project. In outline, it’s a typical coming-of-age saga.

With an added dimension: the protagonist’s weight. He’s Troy, a beefy Seattle high-schooler who has had it with his hapless life. Troy is played by Jacob Wysocki, the determined young actor who also appeared in last year’s “Terri.”

Troy can’t even kill himself successfully. Instead, he gets an unwanted rescuer — and new hero — in Marcus (Matt O’Leary), a scruffy street kid who might actually be a talented guitarist if he could ever kick his drug habit.

Marcus quickly takes advantage of Troy in a couple of ways, but a peculiar friendship develops between the two, based around the remote but touching possibility that Troy might learn to play the drums well enough to join Marcus in a band.

All of this is nicely immersed in a Seattle music scene that doesn’t feel like a picture-postcard view of the city. These places look like the real places the characters would inhabit, and the music feels right.

This authenticity extends to the portrait of Troy’s family; his strict father and no-help-at-all brother are played by Billy Campbell and Dylan Arnold. They could easily be caricatures, but Lillard creates plenty of room for these folks to expand into their roles. Campbell, in particular, brings a lived-in believability to his single dad.

I can’t claim that every plot development rings true, or that the general shape of “Fat Kid” is hugely original. But the movie really conveys a grasp of the teenage mind, and it’s so generous toward its characters it creates an agreeable mood, no matter how punk the characters want to be.

“Fat Kid Rules the World” (3 stars)

A chubby Seattle teen (Jacob Wysocki) finds an unlikely friend in a strung-out street kid (Matt O’Leary), and they put together a vague idea of starting a punk band. This generous-hearted film is directed by actor Matthew Lillard, and while it has its share of predictable plot turns it really understands the teenage mind in a sympathetic way.

Rated: R for subject matter.

Showing: Uptown.

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