Comedian Mark Phinney makes his feature debut with this unflinchingly personal portrait of a life consumed by obesity, featuring a breakout tour-de-force turn from actor Melvin Rodriguez.

Powered by an utterly fearless, tour-de-force performance by Mel Rodriguez, Fat is a bracingly personal inventory of the indignities of battling obesity. Making his feature directorial debut, comedian Mark Phinney has adapted a series of autobiographical essays into an unflinching portrait of a life consumed by a compulsive and tragically self-destructive relationship with food. Often deeply discomfiting, Fat is also darkly funny, and is, above all, a film of remarkable emotional honesty.

“Other than everything being messed up, I’m good,” quips the 300-pound Ken (Rodriguez), who suffers from diabetes, hypertension, and wears a respiratory mask to bed to alleviate his apnea. His psychological symptoms are similarly debilitating: he’s prone to fits of rage and bouts of severe depression, and is given to “eating his feelings,” a cycle of guilty binging triggered by grief at the death of his mother the year before, and his abandonment by his longtime girlfriend a few months later.

Yet Ken’s joking dismissal of his ailments also speaks to his keen sense of humour, which endears him to Audrey (Ashley Lauren), an acquaintance of his best friend Aaron (Bristol Pomeroy). Both figures are eager to offer Ken support in reforming his lifestyle, though he must first commit to helping himself — a feat far more easily said than done.

Given modern-day society’s obsession with body image, fitness ideals, and “good” and “bad” foods, the rapidly growing prevalence of obesity is ironic and telling. Yet it’s all too rare to see authentic cinematic portrayals of “living large,” particularly from narrative filmmakers. Employing a raw, pseudo-documentary aesthetic and the bravura, soul-baring performance from Rodriguez, Phinney has tapped into his own painful experiences to redress that deficiency. Fat relates its protagonist’s struggle with resonant candour by offering insight into the workings of one’s man’s wounded heart. JANE SCHOETTLE

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