Fun without trimming the fat
By Rachel Saslow
Friday, July 2, 2010
Herzl (Itzik Cohen) is tired of being fat. But he's even more tired of dieting. In the beginning of the charming and poignant Israeli comedy "A Matter of Size," Herzl's skinny-minny nutritionist chastises him for gaining weight and calls him a whale.
Herzl tells her to keep her diets because he has devised his own plan: He's becoming a sumo wrestler.
That's the fanciful plot of this film about self-acceptance that treats its five main characters with respect. That's not to say the directors, Sharon Maymon and Erez Tadmor, don't realize that four nearly nude, overweight men stomping around and bear-hugging is a funny sight; they do. The scene of the sumo team members walking through the city of Ramla wearing only their bright red mawashi (the loincloth-like sumo uniform) is one of the funniest in the movie.
Herzl persuades his three best friends to quit the diet club -- "They are selling us self-hate here" -- and join his fledgling team. Their coach is Kitano (Togo Igawa), a former professional sumo referee and the owner of the Japanese restaurant where Herzl washes dishes for a living. Kitano puts them through difficult workouts and delicious-looking meals as they train for a tournament in Japan.
Along the way, the sport becomes more than just "fatsos in diapers and girly hairdos," as one of Herzl's friends calls it. It's a route to self-esteem. We see it first in Herzl's smile after he wins a sumo match in the parking lot behind the Japanese restaurant. The other employees rub his rotund belly and tell him he'll make a great wrestler.
But some of the comedy is very dark indeed, such as when Herzl, who is 35 and lives with his mother, brings home his new girlfriend for Shabbat dinner. (They met at diet club.) Herzl's mother tells him that his girlfriend, Zehava (Irit Kaplan), is too fat and worries that the girl will give her overweight grandkids. Zehava overhears the cruel conversation. A few beats later, we see Herzl driving Zehava home. Herzl says, with lots of enthusiasm, "My mother really liked you!" You laugh because you need a moment of lightness.
The filmmakers spend too much effort trying to sustain tension around the fact that Herzl is concealing his sumo wrestling from Zehava; the lies get tedious as they drag on. More interesting are the lies that sumo wrestler Gidi (Alon Dahan) stops telling: Gidi decides to come out of the closet after he finds a community of gay men online who seek out overweight guys. It's touching to hear him snatch a cellphone away from his friend to gleefully announce to Zehava, "I'm gay!"
Herzl's approach might not be great for one's cholesterol or blood pressure, but it brings up an intriguing idea, one that isn't talked about often in the United States with its current hysteria over obesity: Maybe it would be better to be fat and happy than thin and miserable.
Contains sexually suggestive material and smoking. In Hebrew and Japanese with English subtitles.