Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Humble Pie a.k.a. American Fork (2007)

I saw this back in 2007 at the Austin Film Festival, under the original title, "American Fork." I'm not entirely sure that either title really does the film justice, unfortunately. This is not a great movie, but I think it's pretty underrated and very very good. I re-watched it recently and I still really like it.

"Humble Pie" is story of Tracy Orbison, a nearly 400 pound grocery store employee in a generic small town. He lives at home with his Mother, doesn't have a driver's license, or a girlfriend, or any direction in life. In some ways, "Humble Pie" could have easily been horrible. All of the plot-ingredients, visual flare, and quirkiness of other (much more annoying) films are there, but somehow the film side-steps the pitfalls those films didn't.

It does this in a lot of ways, the first and most important is in the casting of writer/actor Hubbel Palmer. Palmer gives a very assured performance; naturalistic and empathetic. His physical appearance goes along way in characterizing some of Tracy's day-to-day problems, but fortunately the film doesn't dwell on his weight too much (although you wouldn't know it from the dvd packaging). Another way it side-steps disaster is by avoiding the inclusion of some sort of transformative-miracle-girlfriend that makes everything better. Though there is mentioning of his lack-of-a-girlfriend in the film, there is never an attempt by Tracy to remedy the situation (nor is there a chance encounter at the psychiatrist office).

As the plot unfolds, Tracy decides that he wants to become an actor and begins to take part in weekly acting classes taught by an actor named Truman Hope (William Baldwin), whose biggest claim-to-fame was an appearance on "Jag." Tracy is initially in awe of Truman, but soon discovers he's not such a nice guy when he screws him out of his ticket to go see Rutger Hauer give a lecture. The film has a lot of little details like "Jag" and Rutger Hauer that really adds to the comedy.

The rest of the plot concerns Tracy's relationship with his Mother, a new found friendship with a teenager at work named Kendis (Vincent Caso), and Truman's romancing of Tracy's introverted sister (Mary Lynn Rajskub). The plot-line about Tracy's friendship with Kendis goes into some pretty implausible territory, but the film manages to hang-on to believability due to Palmer's performance. He makes Tracy the kind of "twenty-something loser" that a lot of films like this lack, the kind that we can root for, the underdog. Like I said, it's not great film, there are flaws, but it succeeds because of it's sincerity and sweetness.


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