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Judd Apatow and Steven Brill pursue the prison camp formula

These kids do as good a job of hiding food as Otto Frank did his family

Heavyweights: Kenan Thompson, funny from the get-go in his second feature
Heavyweights: Kenan Thompson, funny from the get-go in his second feature

This week’s grouping offers hope to the horizontally challenged, especially if one has a sense of humor when it comes to body image.

Heavyweights (1995)

The Parent Trap meets Stalag 17 when an overnight camp for overweight kids is purchased by a motivational speaker cum celebrity fitness guru with a vengeful spirit. Once ridiculed for his husky size, the lean, mean adult-sized Tony Perkis (Ben Stiller) is now looking to cash in on his recent acquisition by starring the corpulent campers in an infomercial. Judd Apatow co-wrote the script, his first for a feature film. Camp Hope isn’t an exercise camp so much as it’s a summer retreat where kids are encouraged to eat. When Apatow and co-scribe/director Steven Brill pursue the prison camp formula — these kids do as good a job of hiding food as Otto Frank did his family — the laughs are fairly consistent. The sight of Perkis using a knife to check lead instigator Gerry’s (Aaron Schwartz) mattress for munchies would bring a tear to Sig Ruman’s eye. It’s when the filmmakers pursue the path of Disney that the mood shifts from heavy to lightweight. For those looking to score unintentional laughs, check out lead counselor Tom’s (Pat Finley) triumphant (and treacly) “I’m tired of being the fat guy” speech that stirs a call to action.

Before and After (1979)

We open at a party with Carole Matthews (Patty Duke) stepping up to take her turn playing charades. What’s the first clue that Carole pantomimes? “Eat.” Say goodbye to subtlety: every word, every gesture, every everything in this made-for-TV drama is so tightly focused on its lead character’s eating disorder that one would think Hindi Brooks’s teleplay was typed with knife and fork in hand. A deep bow causes our heroine’s slacks to split. There’s nothing in svelte best friend’s Penny’s (Barbara Feldon) closet that works, so to add to the humiliation, Carole relies on a bolt of drapery to double as a sarong. On their way home, hubby Jack (Bradford Dilman) has to dig through a field of candy wrappers to find the cigarettes in the glove box. In truth, Carole is at most 10 pounds overweight, and most of that is bulky fabric. She doesn’t need the services of a diet doctor; a good wardrobe mistress could just as easily help to sew the pounds away.

Betty White’s cameo as Anita, a variation on Weight Watchers diet guru Jean Nidetch, is a hoot. A “former porker,” by her own admission, Anita and the crowd of participants in the “humiliation therapy” reward lost poundage with applause, but those who dare to gain so much as one ounce are forced to parade around in pig masks.

One in-joke drew an intentional smile. The actress famous for her portrayal of Helen Keller is now cast in the role of an art instructor who specializes in overseeing blind sculptors. The institute’s new assistant director Mike Farmer (Art Hindle, resident TV himbo) pretends to be blind in order to observe the volunteers. Fortunately for Carole, he’s a chubby chaser. When she describes herself as “square,” he counters with, “No you’re not. You’re a very well-rounded lady.” Turnabout is fair play: Jack’s refusal to adhere to his marriage vows are enough to send Carole into Mike’s open arms.

Later, Carole slims down, allowing Duke to show off her bikini bod — a nipslip in a TV movie?! She also trims a couple of pounds off her eyebrows. Conchata Ferrell steals every scene as Carole’s confidently plus-sized friend, Marge. In the end, both men dump Carole; it’s a shame that she and Marge didn’t hook up. Watch it on YouTube, if you dare!

Fatso (1980)

The oral passions of Dom DeLuise, as directed by Anne Bancroft. This was the first release of Mr. Bancroft’s production company Brooksfilm, and as much as one applauds Mel giving his wife her first chance to direct, one look and you’ll know why she never again stepped behind the camera. The funeral that opens the picture helps to establish the film’s uneven tone. Even before one character has life breathed into him, we’re burying another. The death of Dommy’s (DeLuise) 39-year-old cousin Fat Sal is an occasion for such an outpouring of grief that it takes a few minutes for the viewer to realize that this is a comedy. Dommy’s sister Antoinette (Bancroft, in her overbearing Garbo and Me mode) screams at Sal in the casket, blaming him for eating his way into an early grave. (Sal was so fat his casket had to be pulled on a trailer behind the hearse.) Dommy cries that Sal will never eat pizza again, but it’s the restaurant owner who deserves the tears for losing a good customer. Let’s move on, lest this descend into a Rodney Dangerfield routine.

At best, Antoinette means well. At worst, Disney could use her character as the basis for one of their evil sorceresses. Here is a film that has nothing more to say for itself than that people who are overweight bear a burden of shame. If Dommy wanted to lose 100 pounds of ugly fat, he’d kick Antoinette out of his life. On the way home from the bakery with a birthday cake, he can’t resist the temptation of cutting off a wedge to sustain him on the drive home. Antoinette flips out, going three rounds with the boxed pastry. But that’s nothing compared to the spit-take-inducing antics that ensue when, on a similar food-fetching errand, Dommy consumes $40 worth of Chinese food. This sight of Antoinette whipping Dommy with a Kewpie Doll on a stick has forever earned a place in the Pantheon of unpremeditated merriment. Either make a mean-spirited comedy about the perils of gravity or stick to the drama. It’s clear Bancroft was not up for both. Estelle Reiner appears memorably as a regular visitor to Dommy’s card shop and Candice Azzara co-stars as Dommy’s love interest, a depthless cherub in whom he meets his match.

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Heavyweights: Kenan Thompson, funny from the get-go in his second feature
Heavyweights: Kenan Thompson, funny from the get-go in his second feature

This week’s grouping offers hope to the horizontally challenged, especially if one has a sense of humor when it comes to body image.

Heavyweights (1995)

The Parent Trap meets Stalag 17 when an overnight camp for overweight kids is purchased by a motivational speaker cum celebrity fitness guru with a vengeful spirit. Once ridiculed for his husky size, the lean, mean adult-sized Tony Perkis (Ben Stiller) is now looking to cash in on his recent acquisition by starring the corpulent campers in an infomercial. Judd Apatow co-wrote the script, his first for a feature film. Camp Hope isn’t an exercise camp so much as it’s a summer retreat where kids are encouraged to eat. When Apatow and co-scribe/director Steven Brill pursue the prison camp formula — these kids do as good a job of hiding food as Otto Frank did his family — the laughs are fairly consistent. The sight of Perkis using a knife to check lead instigator Gerry’s (Aaron Schwartz) mattress for munchies would bring a tear to Sig Ruman’s eye. It’s when the filmmakers pursue the path of Disney that the mood shifts from heavy to lightweight. For those looking to score unintentional laughs, check out lead counselor Tom’s (Pat Finley) triumphant (and treacly) “I’m tired of being the fat guy” speech that stirs a call to action.

Before and After (1979)

We open at a party with Carole Matthews (Patty Duke) stepping up to take her turn playing charades. What’s the first clue that Carole pantomimes? “Eat.” Say goodbye to subtlety: every word, every gesture, every everything in this made-for-TV drama is so tightly focused on its lead character’s eating disorder that one would think Hindi Brooks’s teleplay was typed with knife and fork in hand. A deep bow causes our heroine’s slacks to split. There’s nothing in svelte best friend’s Penny’s (Barbara Feldon) closet that works, so to add to the humiliation, Carole relies on a bolt of drapery to double as a sarong. On their way home, hubby Jack (Bradford Dilman) has to dig through a field of candy wrappers to find the cigarettes in the glove box. In truth, Carole is at most 10 pounds overweight, and most of that is bulky fabric. She doesn’t need the services of a diet doctor; a good wardrobe mistress could just as easily help to sew the pounds away.

Betty White’s cameo as Anita, a variation on Weight Watchers diet guru Jean Nidetch, is a hoot. A “former porker,” by her own admission, Anita and the crowd of participants in the “humiliation therapy” reward lost poundage with applause, but those who dare to gain so much as one ounce are forced to parade around in pig masks.

One in-joke drew an intentional smile. The actress famous for her portrayal of Helen Keller is now cast in the role of an art instructor who specializes in overseeing blind sculptors. The institute’s new assistant director Mike Farmer (Art Hindle, resident TV himbo) pretends to be blind in order to observe the volunteers. Fortunately for Carole, he’s a chubby chaser. When she describes herself as “square,” he counters with, “No you’re not. You’re a very well-rounded lady.” Turnabout is fair play: Jack’s refusal to adhere to his marriage vows are enough to send Carole into Mike’s open arms.

Later, Carole slims down, allowing Duke to show off her bikini bod — a nipslip in a TV movie?! She also trims a couple of pounds off her eyebrows. Conchata Ferrell steals every scene as Carole’s confidently plus-sized friend, Marge. In the end, both men dump Carole; it’s a shame that she and Marge didn’t hook up. Watch it on YouTube, if you dare!

Fatso (1980)

The oral passions of Dom DeLuise, as directed by Anne Bancroft. This was the first release of Mr. Bancroft’s production company Brooksfilm, and as much as one applauds Mel giving his wife her first chance to direct, one look and you’ll know why she never again stepped behind the camera. The funeral that opens the picture helps to establish the film’s uneven tone. Even before one character has life breathed into him, we’re burying another. The death of Dommy’s (DeLuise) 39-year-old cousin Fat Sal is an occasion for such an outpouring of grief that it takes a few minutes for the viewer to realize that this is a comedy. Dommy’s sister Antoinette (Bancroft, in her overbearing Garbo and Me mode) screams at Sal in the casket, blaming him for eating his way into an early grave. (Sal was so fat his casket had to be pulled on a trailer behind the hearse.) Dommy cries that Sal will never eat pizza again, but it’s the restaurant owner who deserves the tears for losing a good customer. Let’s move on, lest this descend into a Rodney Dangerfield routine.

At best, Antoinette means well. At worst, Disney could use her character as the basis for one of their evil sorceresses. Here is a film that has nothing more to say for itself than that people who are overweight bear a burden of shame. If Dommy wanted to lose 100 pounds of ugly fat, he’d kick Antoinette out of his life. On the way home from the bakery with a birthday cake, he can’t resist the temptation of cutting off a wedge to sustain him on the drive home. Antoinette flips out, going three rounds with the boxed pastry. But that’s nothing compared to the spit-take-inducing antics that ensue when, on a similar food-fetching errand, Dommy consumes $40 worth of Chinese food. This sight of Antoinette whipping Dommy with a Kewpie Doll on a stick has forever earned a place in the Pantheon of unpremeditated merriment. Either make a mean-spirited comedy about the perils of gravity or stick to the drama. It’s clear Bancroft was not up for both. Estelle Reiner appears memorably as a regular visitor to Dommy’s card shop and Candice Azzara co-stars as Dommy’s love interest, a depthless cherub in whom he meets his match.

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