Almost a narrative companion piece to popular Sundance documentary “Super Size Me,” Brooklyn filmmaker Matthew Bonifacio and co-writer/star Carmine Famiglietti’s “Lbs.” is a fresh and entertaining account of one man’s battle to defeat his addiction to overeating. The intimately personal chronicle is more impressive for Famiglietti’s disarming self-exposure than for any fully formed cinematic style or consistency of tone, but the modest production has a genuine, warm spirit and a reality TV compulsiveness that should boost its chances of commercial exposure.
Only 27 but weighing in at around 300 pounds, Neil (Famiglietti) suffers a heart attack two days before his sister’s wedding, prompting the postponement of the ceremony, the loss of his job as a school bus driver and the introduction of a strict dietary regime. But despite the health scare, Neil secretly continues inhaling carbs thanks to clandestine food deliveries from his best friend Sacco (Michael Aronov), who suffers from his own addictions.
During the rescheduled wedding, Neil’s sister (Sharon Angela) and her groom (Lou Martini Jr.) angrily blame Neil for the scaled-down, rained-out disaster. The humiliation serves as a wakeup call to Neil to mend his lard-ass loser ways. He flees the city and moves into a trailer in the woods, determined to wean himself off excess food and reduce his weight. Sacco follows, hoping to kick his drug habit, but cohabitation proves impossible.
A brief affair with a married woman (Miriam Shor) plays like a too-abruptly abandoned plot strand, but serves to further galvanize Neil’s will to change.While the film feels structurally awkward and takes time to settle on the right balance of comedy and pathos, it does eventually provide an emotional hook after exposing the humanity and vulnerability beneath Neil’s gluttonous behavior. His return to the city as a transformed man yields some deftly gauged scenes that subtly acknowledge how unpredictable people’s reactions can be to drastic change. Most upsetting of all for Neil is his chance encounter with strung-out Sacco, which serves to further illustrate the tightrope walked by addicts of all kinds.
The mixed message of the film’s closing scene may be admirable in its veracity and its advocacy of self-acceptance, but the conclusion feels like a downer, muffling some of the good feeling engendered by Neil’s success. Closing on a previous scene with Neil in an over-eaters anonymous meeting might have wrapped the story on a more satisfying open-ended note.
With the actor undergoing significant weight fluctuations during the extended shoot, Famiglietti’s performance carries the charge of real physical and emotional catharsis, offset by low-key humor that mixes self-deprecation with cockiness. With one or two exceptions like Neil’s weakly drawn food-pusher mother (Susan Varon), Bonifacio and Famiglietti show a strong feel for believable, rough-edged characters. Carlo Giacco’s multi-flavored score gently shapes the mood of this imperfect but appealing and unpretentious film.