Carmine Famiglietti watched the world premiere of his film, Lbs., at Sundance in 2004, but it took six years before it saw a theatrical release. After viewing the film (which actually aged well considering principal photography began in 2001), one wonders if his labor of love sat in production limbo simply because it couldn’t decide which story it wanted to tell. Call it genre confusion: Lbs. is a simple film with great ambition but a lack of focus.
Lbs. is the directorial debut from Matthew Bonifacio. He shares writing credit with Famiglietti, who turns in a worthy and believable performance effectively playing himself as Neil Perota. Although the film’s leading man is assured and compelling, Lbs. is fraught with aimless minor characters and discontinuous editing, which overshadow the principal story. Mr. Bonifacio takes on more than he can handle, as the film touches but fails to follow through on themes of personal responsibility, family obligation, and self-image. Opening with a scene that takes place at an Overeaters Anonymous meeting, the film sets up a heavy-handed tone. Thereafter, the audience is force-fed (pun intended) the addiction allegory, with the film suggesting that overeating is as uncontrollable as drug dependency.
Neil is the youngest son of a stereotypical Italian-American family, a slothful layabout weighing in at 315 lbs. He has an insatiable appetite and his grossly unhealthy tendencies are depicted in scene after scene of cheeseburger gorging. In an early and somewhat disturbing sequence, Neil passes out while driving a busload of children to the zoo (read: field trip gone awry), resulting in the postponement of his sister’s (Sharon Angela) dream wedding. The accident precedes a chain of events that change Neil’s life, but in hindsight, it’s merely a device to drive Neil away from Brooklyn.
Fleeing to the woodlands of upstate New York with his lifelong pal Sacco (Michael Aronov), a wise-cracking cokehead, the two pledge to kick their vices together. It is here where things get murky, as Sacco bows out at the first sign of withdrawal while Neil is left to tame the wilderness and slim down alone (think Into the Wild meets Heavyweights). Indecisiveness is not the strong suit of narrative, and the filmmaker’s choice to cut one character and thrust in another, in the form of an unlikely romance, is altogether disappointing. Instead of appreciating the scenery’s rustic beauty or focusing on Neil’s transformation and growth, the film pulls focus with hackneyed characters like the drug-addled friend and the token village divorcée. As soon as the audience starts getting comfortable with these characters, they quickly disappear, which makes for a rather alienating experience.
Lbs. is essentially a vehicle for Famiglietti’s actual weight loss, and it will inevitably be called “personal.” But in deviating from Neil’s journey, comparing his binge-eating habits to Sacco’s cocaine addiction and painting unlikable characters, the film loses sight of its purpose. The handful of entertaining scenes are marred by several head-scratching ones that belong on the cutting-room floor (see Sacco’s 60-second rap monologue). Granted, the film isn’t entirely preachy and disjointed. Only in the third act does the movie suffer from a terminal identity crisis when the filmmaker attempts to tie-up disintegrated threads. But the shallow supporting cast doesn’t do anything to rectify the muddled storylines, and although it is billed as a comedic drama, the film is simply not funny. Lbs. is more like a tale of morality than a study of perseverance, positioning the feature as a hamfisted “message film.”