WHALE Hunting.

I saw it on playbill.com today.  A new play opened called “The Whale”.  Here’s the quick outline, though you could read the rest of the article if you read the playbill link.

Tony Winner Shuler Hensley Is 600-Pound Man in NYC Premiere of The Whale, Opening Nov. 5

By Kenneth Jones
05 Nov 2012

The New York City premiere of Obie Award winner Samuel D. Hunter’s The Whale, the harrowing character study of the roots of dysfunction in the life of a morbidly-obese 600-pound man, opens Nov. 5 following previews from Oct. 12 at Playwrights Horizons‘ Peter Jay Sharp Theater. Shuler Hensley, who won a Tony Award for playing brooding Jud Fry in Oklahoma!, stars in the drama.

Hensley dons a costume and padding that traps the actor in the body of Charlie, a mentally vibrant but emotionally (and mostly couch-bound) lost soul. Surrounding Hensley’s character are people feeding his dysfunction or challenging it, or both. Expect a pile of award nominations to come Hensley’s way in the spring.

Great……. just great.

I’ll bet you’re wondering just what I have issue with here.  “But Phil, it’s a play about a fat man!  Doesn’t that do something for size acceptance?”

No, it does about as much for size acceptance as having a picture of Aunt Jemima on the pancake box does for racial equality.  First of all, the character isn’t being played by a fat man.  I don’t know about you, but whenever I see someone don a fat suit for a movie role, I see them and say to myself “Hey look, it’s a skinny person in a fat suit”.  Skinny people in fat suits don’t do anything for size acceptance, though they  make kids wonder if the Santa at the mall is real or not.

The bigger issue of course is that fat people in movies are almost always portrayed as having deep emotional issues (much like the character here), and while the connection may not be overtly made that the fat is somehow associated with the emotional issue or vice versa, most viewers of these movies certainly walk with that impression, meaning……….FAT PEOPLE ARE MESSED UP.

Let’s just look at some of the movies that have included fat people in lead or supporting roles:

1.  Marty.  Marty is a 34-year-old butcher whose Italian family is constantly after him to get married. He meets plain-looking schoolteacher Clara. They are both lonely, unglamorous people who have resigned themselves to their unloved lives.

2.  Only The Lonely.  Danny Muldoon (John Candy), a 38-year-old Chicago policeman, still lives with his overbearing Irish mother.

3.  What’s Eating Gilbert Grape.  Bonnie (Darlene Cates) is morbidly obese after years of depression following her husband’s suicide by hanging himself. She hasn’t left the house in years, and is always found sitting on the sofa watching television.

4.  I Don’t Buy Kisses Anymore.  Jason Alexander stars in this sweet-natured romantic comedy, marred by some overblown stereotypes. Alexander plays shoe salesman Bernie Fishbine. Bernie is lonely and shy and ever conscious about his weight problem. He stills lives at home with his mother Sarah (Lainie Kazan) and grandpa Irving Fein (Lou Jacobi).

5.  Precious.  This adaptation of author Sapphire’s best-selling novel about an overweight, illiterate African-American teen from Harlem who discovers an alternate path in life after she begins attending a new school. Clareece “Precious” Jones is only a teenager, yet she’s about to give birth to her second child. Unable to read or write, Clareece shows little prospect for the future.

6.  BabyCakes.  Grace Hart (Ricki Lake), rides the subway everyday. Her somewhat unhappy existence is noted as she shops in a department store with her best friend, Keri (Nada Despotovich), and is rudely asked to please look at their “Large Ladies Department”.

7.  Terri.  Overweight and depressed 15-year old Terri starts to slack off in school and wear pajamas, to the chagrin of his teachers. Soon Terri is taken under the wing of unconventional assistant principal Mr. Fitzgerald, who creates a series of Monday-morning counseling sessions for social outcasts at the school.

Get my point?  Fat is aberrant, both visually, and psychologically.  I could add many more movies like Feed, where even the concept of feederism is considered by many to be a psychological problem (and I have some days where I might agree, though for me, generally the jury is out).

My point is that thin Hollywood (and even indy directors) almost always portray fat people with issues, and quite frankly I’m really sick of it.  Please don’t point out to me that Kevin James’ portrayal of Paul Blart Mall Cop breaks the mold, because quite honestly he has issues as well, and though he succeeds as the movie’s protagonist, he succeeds IN SPITE of his weight, not because of it.

The movie Lincoln will open this weekend to tremendous reviews.  I’m still waiting for the movie about big fat Grover Cleveland, our only president who served two non consecutive terms.

Of course, Hollywood will paint him with issues as well…….



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