Fatboy runs from Abdication to Dedication
by James Harleman
“… let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us…” – Hebrews 12:1b
Marathon becomes metaphor in this story of the everyman’s desperate flight from role and responsibility. Although the story is as old as the sin of Adam, this story – written by Simon Pegg and Michael Ian Black, directed by David Schwimmer – is acted beautifully by the comedic and oddly charming Simon Pegg. While this romantic comedy is more standard than Pegg’s previous, zombified offering (Shaun of the Dead) many of the themes are similar. With shades of both American and British comedy, a touch of Disney but a hint of dark humor, Pegg brings the blend together to make a thoroughly engaging film. Neither a fan of “Friends” or Schwimmer in general, I was impressed by his direction of the film, which is shot entirely on location in London.
Pegg portrays Dennis, a man who literally runs like a schoolgirl from the altar, leaving bride-to-be Libby (played by Thandie Newton) in tears… not to mention pregnant. Five years later, when Dennis realizes his almost-wife and mother of his child is getting serious about an American businessman named Whit (Hank Azaria), he desperately wants to prove himself and win her back. As a clumsy gesture, he enters himself in the charity marathon the fit Whit has entered, hoping to demonstrate he can actually finish something for once in his unremarkable life.
Not unlike his character in Shaun of the Dead, Dennis has gone nowhere and achieved virtually nothing. He avoids challenges, working at the mall as a security guard (chasing transvestite lingerie thieves) and living in a basement studio. He spends fun time with his son, but has otherwise abdicated his role. He can’t afford the rent, let alone pay for a son or provide for his mother, who understandably wants nothing to do with him. While it is initially jealousy that drives him to compete, circumstances begin to illustrate just how much he has ceased being a MAN in every sense of the word. His heavy (and heavy-handed) landlord, Mr. Ghoshtashtidar, confronts him on his cowardice. At Libby’s birthday party, Dennis tries to explain his embarrassing escape from their nearly-nuptials:
“I did a stupid, stupid thing. But it was only because I thought spoiling your day was better than ruining your life. Does that make any sense?”
Dennis comes to realize the perverse, “reverse-pride” of this original decision, and decides to reach for respectably instead of continuously fleeing from decisions that seem beyond his level of respectability. He gets serious about the race, tired of being a self-described “nearly-man”. He even tells Libby he knows the marathon won’t get them back together. He knows he can’t have HER, but would be content to know he has her RESPECT.
This is a key theme in narrative that threads all the way back to the Bible, and the model for marriage mapped out in Ephesians 5. Implicit is the fact that women desire to be loved; a man is commanded to love his wife and give himself UP for her. However, more than anything, it isn’t love men desire so much as respect. They desire to be marked by lives that are respectable. Instead of hiding from everything because he ISN’T, Dennis decides that he will start BEING.
Of course, Dennis’ friends are both helpful and detrimental, betting on his success and then employing various methods to “train” him for the race. If he fails, he will also lose his flat, and his buddy Gordon might lose his teeth – and an appendage. When Whit proposes to Libby and she accepts, Dennis goes on an ill-timed bender. The day of the race finds him ill-prepared, yet still determined, to finish something for once in his life. However, like every milestone on a man’s path, there is going to be a moment in the race when he “hits the wall”… when the stitch in his side gets severe, when the urge to stop will burn like a fire. This time around, what will his ultimate decision be?
“For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” – Hebrews 12:11
Run, Fatboy, Run emphasizes the value of discipline, perseverance, and commitment… and the prototypical male response that stems all the way back to the silence of Adam, who originally and tragically broke the mold when he abdicated his role and watched his wife get tempted. From Adam to Dennis, we likewise try to blame-shift, instead of taking the responsibility that Mr. Ghoshtashtidar points out Dennis needs to own.
Our life is, as Eugene Peterson coined very wisely, should be “a long obedience in the same direction”. Even the movie’s ending illustrates this poignantly.
thanks for this great review. Planning on watching this with a couple of friends and then hosting a discussion to explore the themes brought up in the film.
Love the concept of engaging culture in this way.
Grace and Peace,