The lovable loser has always been a staple in Hollywood films. In the early days Harold Lloyd and Max Davidson were nerdy characters the audience cared for despite their shortcomings. More recently Ben Stiller and Seth Rogen have kept the tradition of the terminally behind-the-eight ball character alive and kicking.
Rarely, however, has a loser been as hard to love as Dennis (Simon Pegg), an ambition-challenged Brit who leaves his beautiful, pregnant fiancée Libby (Thandie Newton) at the altar in the opening moments of Run Fatboy Run, a new comedy directed by David Schwimmer.
Ever since that fateful day Dennis, now working as a security guard at a London women’s wear shop, has rued his decision to flee from commitment and responsibility. Five years on his life hasn’t changed much. He still lives in a dumpy apartment, he’s still slightly overweight, still works a dead end job and still can’t pull his act together. The only thing he’s almost good at is being a father figure to his son, and even then he has more bad days than good.
The catalyst to change his life comes in the form of Whit (Hank Azaria) a good looking hedge-fund trader. He’s everything Dennis isn’t—slick, successful and disciplined. He seems too good to be true. Saint Whit even runs marathons for charity in his spare time.
As Whit becomes more enmeshed in Libby’s life Dennis is overcome by jealousy and becomes determined to beat Whit at his own game—marathon running—to win back Libby’s trust and affection. Of course, in his quest for Libby’s love he discovers his own sense of self worth and becomes a better person. Still a loser perhaps, but a more lovable one than the man we met in the film’s opening minutes.
Run Fatboy Run isn’t the most original story to come down the pike this year. Unlike the edgy offerings from past Simon Pegg (he both stars and co-wrote Run Fatboy Run) movies like Sean of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, it plays like a sitcom—although one with far fouler language than you’re likely to hear in prime time—which shouldn’t be too much of a surprise as it was directed by Schwimmer, best known as the actor who played Dr. Ross Geller on 238 episodes of Friends.
On the plus side though, it plays like a good sitcom. The romantic comedy storyline is predictable—otherwise it wouldn’t be a romantic comedy, but a romantic calamity—and the Rocky-esque training and marathon run ends pretty much as you would imagine, but you know that going in. The trick here is to make the predictable aspects of the story entertaining and Schwimmer and company do just that with a competent cast, lead by Pegg who can milk laughs out of almost any material and who plays Dennis as a real person and not just a beer-swilling caricature.
The whole film has a winning sweet-natured tone that smoothly weaves rom com conventions with slapstick and a good dose of sentimentality to create a whole that won’t win any awards for originality but has its heart in the right place.