Regional cinema with a twist, Lbs. looks at the problem of compulsive overeating through the story of a food addict and his year of detox. Neil (Carmine Famiglietti, in a role inspired by his own true life struggle with weight) is part of a loving Italian family in Queens: but when a heart condition sends him to the ICU it’s not long before he opts for a self-imposed exile to the woods where no one with a pizza oven can hear him scream. On one side Lbs. deals with a subject not often handled dramatically and this alone gives it an urgency and a credibility—the film's claim to document, which I’ll address momentarily, helps this—but formally the film earns no stripes. Still, a modest gross can be anticipated if sophomore directing/producing team Matthew Bonifacio and Famiglietti (Amexicano) bring this title around in a way that targets market. There are people to be spoken to here and a worthy use of media at hand: if those marks are hit this title could bring in some conscientiously earned profits.
Neil has always been overweight and always found solace in eating. His tight-knit family supports a food culture based in good intentions and and Italian tradition. This is a contrast with his best friend, Sacco (Michael Aronov), who cites his broken home as the reason for his current drug addiction. After a heart condition causes Neil to leave his job (he works for his father as a contract driver) he goes Kerouac in a trailer in a rural Northeastern Town. At first he tries to drag Sacco along, saying they can help each other “get clean,” but discomfort turns to nitpicking and the pair split. From that moment on Neil’s time in the trailer begins to look like a self-imposed exile with sojourns into solitary-confinement-style delirium. He rides a bike and eats salad—and over the space of nearly a year we watch Neil (and actor Carmine along with him) lose some very real weight. His return to roost is bittersweet, and he gets his goal (to be able to take his shirt off at the beach) but it’s an imperfect victory with still much resolution to be sought.
The only instances in which direction takes a more imaginative turn are the moments we enter Neil’s imagination. It’s not the most far-fetched place but it’s a place that, in the final moments of the film, you see a thin patina pasted over the messy, rough-edged universe of Queens. While this looks like a kind of neutralizing, or a forced softening of an otherwise harsh locale, the fantasy element transforms Neil’s real world into an even more dangerous place. This flourish is at odds with the reality featured in the film: a real-life, full body reinvention spearheaded by star Famiglietti the film additionally records. I’m not ready to say that the film is positing this rift between the real world and a skewed mental portrait of it as a way to crack open the mindset of addiction. Lbs. doesn’t demonstrate mastery elsewhere to make that possibility seem salient. At the same time, it is its own rough hewn portrait of Queens and detox and a patina of grime or glamour seems nothing but necessary to prove any point Bonifacio and Famiglietti care to make.
Distribution: Truly Indie
Cast: Carmine Famiglietti, Miriam Shor, Michael Aronov, Sharon Angela and Susan Varon
Director: Matthew Bonifacio
Screenwriters/Producers: Carmine Famiglietti and Matthew Bonifacio
Running time: 100 min.
Release date: March 26 NY