Movie review: 'Lbs.' has a weighty problem

Carmine Famiglietti is likable in
Carmine Famiglietti is likable in "Lbs.," but his weight loss is more dramatic than the film's other subplots. (Truly Indie)
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By Michael O'Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 7, 2010

For a movie about obesity, "Lbs." is a pretty slender story. Its hero, on the other hand, takes up a lot of room.


Carmine Famiglietti, who produced and co-wrote the film with director Matthew Bonifacio, plays Neil Perota, a 27-year-old Brooklynite whose weight hovers around 300 pounds. The actor doesn't wear a fat suit; it's all him.

After suffering a heart attack, Neil leaves his Brooklyn home and Italian American family for a rundown trailer in rural Upstate New York. If he removes himself from the temptations of his mother's kitchen and the neighborhood pizzeria, he reasons, maybe he'll be able to get in shape.

Boy, does he ever.

When Neil shows up back in town, he's 100 pounds lighter. It's no special effect, either. The film took two years to make, mainly because Famiglietti actually had to drop all that weight. You almost won't recognize him.

How did he do it? Fuhgeddaboutit. "The Biggest Loser" this ain't.

There are no diet or exercise tips here, no lectures about willpower or commitment. We see Neil eat a salad and take a wobbly jaunt on a beat-up bicycle; that's it. One minute he's obese, and the next minute he isn't. You'll be forgiven for thinking maybe the theater lost a reel of film. It's that dramatic.

Unfortunately, the drama of Neil's physical transformation is heavier than the film around it. Subplots include a brief romance between Neil and Lara (Miriam Shor), the country waitress who's able to see past his unattractive physique, and the descent into drug addiction of Neil's best friend back in Brooklyn, Sacco (Michael Aronov).

Both story lines serve a narrative purpose. Neil's relationship with Lara drives home the point that ugliness, like beauty, is only skin deep. And Sacco's deterioration draws both a counterpoint and a parallel to Neil's self-improvement. Compulsive eating, the film argues, is just as hard to kick as a chemical dependence.

Famiglietti makes an appealing, if low-key, role model for those who are struggling with the same issue as Neil. The actor has an outsize likability that easily carries the film. But it's like the before-and-after pictures in a Jenny Craig ad; the connective tissue is missing.

"Lbs." leaves you hungering for a few more insights and answers than it offers. While there's some vague talk by Neil about how food filled a void inside, the reasons for that void -- and how he came to terms with it -- are conspicuously left off the table.

** Unrated. At Landmark's E Street Cinema. Contains crude language, drug use and discussion of sex. 100 minutes. On Friday and Saturday, director Matthew Bonifacio and star and co-writer Carmine Famiglietti will answer questions after the 5:30, 7:50 and 10:10 p.m. shows.

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