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Father and son: (l-r) Pegg and Fenton in Run Fat Boy Run.

Unfit, but Not Unfunny

By Ann Morrow

Run Fat Boy Run

Directed by David Schwimmer

Whatever is inexplicably funny about British buttocks has faded since the appearance of Rhys Ifans’ tight bikini undies in front of the press in Notting Hill. In Run Fat Boy Run, Simon Pegg pulls a similar sight gag, and Dylan Moran flashes his backside more than once. Pegg plays Dennis, a hapless security guard; Moran is Gordon, a layabout gambler whose cousin, Libby (Thandie Newton), is Dennis’ ex- girlfriend. Libby owns and operates a bakeshop called Nice Buns, which could be an alternate title for this mildly amusing, warms-the-cockles comedy in which Dennis (“I’m not fat, I’m unfit”) trains for a marathon to prove his ardor to Libby, whom he jilted at the altar five years previous when she was pregnant.

Dennis gets motivated to be all he can be after meeting Libby’s new boyfriend, Whit (Hank Azaria), a hedge-fund manager with a bullish portfolio and pecs to match. Whit runs in marathons for charity and is unflappably friendly, making Dennis’ attempts to show him up all the more frustrating. Dennis dubs him “Mr. Perfect” but changes the moniker to “Mr. Peter Perfect” after getting a gander at Whit’s hidden assets in a gym locker room. It’s the film’s funniest scene, deftly carried by Pegg’s appealing comedic physicality.

Co-written by Pegg (with Michael Ian Black), the story is an ’80s-Brit-pop version of Rocky, and not as zany as Pegg’s previous acting and writing gigs in Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. Director David Schwimmer adds some TV-style tumbledown humor but smartly lets the actors play to their strengths, and the slacker bonhomie between Dennis and Gordon, the seethingly polite exchanges between Dennis and Whit, and Dennis’ appealingly silly rapport with his precocious son, Jake (Matthew Fenton), compensate for some distinctly lowbrow American gags, such as a squirting blister that might’ve been an outtake from a Farrelly brothers film.

During his training for the marathon, Dennis is aided and abetted by Gordon (Moran’s louche line readings are almost worth the price of admission) and some unlikely supporters, leading to a predictable, but sweetly and sincerely parlayed, moment of self-actualization. Run Fat Boy Run may lack the comedic brio of Pegg’s previous work, but Dennis is such a likeable bloke—even in too-tight running shorts—that his growth experience from shirker to working-class hero is a chuckle-a-mile.

Not a modern girl: McAdams in Married Life.

Period Piece

Married Life

Directed by Ira Sachs

The drama of a broken marriage is as old as, well, marriage. In Married Life, set in 1949, middle-age wealthy businessman Harry Allen (Chris Cooper) has fallen out of love with his loyal wife Pat (Patricia Clarkson), and into love with a young war widow, Kay (Rachel McAdams). He doesn’t want to hurt his wife, and he can’t stay—so he decides to murder her.

There’s a fourth party in this domestic tragedy-in-the-making, Harry and Pat’s bachelor pal Richard (Pierce Brosnan). Richard has his own interests, but is remarkably agile in keeping them hidden from everyone. Everyone but the audience, that is—Richard also serves as the not-always-trustworthy narrator, a fact enriched by the sly Brosnan’s skills.

Married Life re-creates America right after World War II like no other film in recent memory. It gets the clothes, cars, music and gadgets right, but it goes deeper than that. It gets the mores—which are central to the story—right. One of the reasons I think the kids (i.e., anyone under 30) don’t get old movies is because we’ve changed so much as a society. Example: The idea that marriage was a life contract, especially if you were of a certain class or held a place of some importance in society, is unfathomable today. But that’s the way it was. Relations between the sexes, married and single, were subject to rules both openly acknowledged and silently assumed—rules totally alien to the way we live now. If nothing else, Married Life performs a kind of public service for not transposing our mores on those times.

That said, it’s still ultimately unsatisfying. And the film goes wrong because director Ira Sachs makes his actors to do almost all the work. (That aforementioned meticulous attention to period detail does the rest.) With a couple of obvious exceptions (that I’m willing to bet money came from the source novel), Sachs is singularly uninterested in telling the story through compositions or editing. Odd, because those are sort of the point of film directing.

The best example of this is a key scene between Cooper and McAdams. It’s groaningly obvious what’s really going on; the point is to show that Harry, who thinks of himself as shrewd and perceptive, is actually a bit of a dolt. Sachs shoots it with the blandness of a three-camera sitcom. It would be a complete misfire if not for McAdams; she invests Kay with a genuine depth of feeling and emotional complexity that transcends the aimless direction.

The handling of the murder scheme is also flat-footed. Sachs can’t seem to make up his mind how seriously to take Harry’s plotting; in the end, the fact that Harry’s punishment fits his crime is unnecessarily blunted.

That the film remains worth a look is likely owing to the sturdiness of John Bingham’s source novel Five Roundabouts to Heaven. Oh, and those terrific actors.

—Shawn Stone

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