Movie review: 'Lbs.' reveals depths of food addiction

Al Alexander

Quick! Who has it worse: the junkie who jabs a needle into his arm, or the morbidly obese teddy bear who shoves a dozen Twinkies down his throat?

The new old movie “Lbs.” (it debuted at Sundance in 2004 but only now is being released) makes a pretty persuasive argument in favor of the latter. It tells the semi-autobiographical tale of how actor Carmine Famiglietti dropped more than 100 pounds by becoming the weight-loss version of Henry David Thoreau.

There’s also a little of Chris McCandless in Famiglietti’s Neil Perota, who, after inadvertently ruining the fairy tale wedding of his sister, Theresa (Sharon Angela, aka Rosalie Aprile from “The Sopranos”), checks out of his family’s Brooklyn home and heads for the woods in upstate New York to live in the wild.

With a rundown trailer as his home and a beaten-up bike as his main mode of transportation, Neil begins a yearlong journey into the deepest recesses of his soul, as he confronts his food addiction honestly and aggressively.

Joining him for a short time is his best friend, Sacco (a superb Michael Arnov), a devoted heroin addict who wants to get clean by getting back to nature. He doesn’t last long, but it’s long enough for the two pals to engage in a compelling argument over whose addiction is strongest and how differently society views their respective afflictions.

“Lbs.” is bloated with similar thought-provoking insights on the joys, anxieties and temptations food can feed. But it’s the human element that gives it its heft.

Weighing in at 385 pounds when filming began, Famiglietti speaks directly from his overworked, cholesterol-clogged heart about the guilt and self-loathing his constant binging inspires. Not to mention dealing with the disapproving looks sent his way by the skinny-minis of the universe.

Famiglietti bravely takes you deep into the world of constant craving, where pretty girls, fashionable clothes and respect are never an option. He’s also not afraid to make Neil a bit of a jerk. But like his belly, his narcissism grows on you.

So does his potential romance with a greasy-spoon waitress (Miriam Shor) separated from her abusive husband. The two actors have a naturalness in their scenes together that makes their characters’ unlikely romance all the more believable.

Too bad their awkward machinations aren’t explored more. Ditto, Neil and Sacco’s friendship, which is largely forgotten about in the film’s back half, as the focus shifts to Neil and his fight to survive a bitter, lonely winter without food or companionship.

It’s still good, but it would have been better sans the numerous scenes of Neil talking to himself in mirrors. Director and co-writer Matthew Bonifacio also would have been wise to capture the progression of Famiglietti’s dramatic weight loss instead of simply going for the shock value of having him suddenly pop up 100 pounds lighter in the third act.

That does nothing, though, to diminish Famiglietti’s amazing accomplishment, in which he dropped all the weight during a one-year break in filming. He credits his crash diet for saving his life; and hopefully saving the thousands of other overweight people his story will undoubtedly inspire.

Now, that’s what I call phat.

Patriot Ledger writer Al Alexander may be reached

Lbs. (Unrated.) Cast includes Carmine Famiglietti, Sharon Angela and Michael Arnov. Co-written and directed by Matthew Bonifacio. 3 stars out of 4.