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Digesting the lowest rung of pop culture so you don't have to!
This is my second 1995 comedy in a row, and like the previous, I have a special affinity for 1995’s Heavyweights. I remember actually seeing this movie in theaters with a few neighborhood friends on a cold February evening. I remember riding my bike to the video store later that fall to rent it. I remember each and every time I saw it, because it spoke to me in a way few other movies had up until that time. You see, I liked Heavyweights because I myself am a heavyweight. I’m 6’4″ tall and over 200 lbs. I’ve always been a big fella. In 1995’s Heavyweights I finally saw a movie where someone like myself could be the hero.
Starring Ben Stiller, Aaron Schwartz, and SNL’s Kenan Thompson, Heavyweights is a Judd Apatow-produced summer camp movie about a group of overweight underdogs. Anchored by Schwartz’s rotund Jerry Garner, a group of rag-tag children attend a summer camp ruled by the iron first of Ben Stiller, who would later play a variation of this character in 2004’s Vince Vaughn-vehicle Dodgeball. Stiller is Tony Perkis, a fitness freak who, after suffering a friendless obese childhood, buys a fat camp in order to turn it into a best-selling infomercial.
Stiller is magnificent in his role, giving it his all in an unhinged, creepy performance reminiscent of Norman Bates crossed with Richard Simmons. Character-actor Tom McGowan (of Ghost World and Frasier fame) plays heavy-set counselor Pat Finley, who is able to overcome his confidence problems and lead Jerry and the kids to a victory over arch nemesis rivals Camp MVP (what is a summer camp movie without a slobs vs. snobs winner-takes-all relay race?). Future Bridesmaids and Freaks and Geeks director Paul Feig has a supporting role, as does Adam Sandler’s best pal Allen Covert (as a deadpan, scene-stealing camp cameraman and videographer). It might also be a crime if I didn’t also mention the cameos from Tim Blake Nelson, Anne Meara, Jerry Stiller, and Arrested Development’s Jeffrey Tambor.
In many ways, I respect Heavyweights a ton. Sure, it has a fair amount of kid-stuff humor, but it also has that sarcastic Apatow/Feig bite to it. It is a very literal and straightforward film, but also has flashes of crazy, like in Stiller’s performance or the dismantling of the go-karts (complete with Platoon-like parody) or the terrifying harpooning of the blob. Like Billy Madison, it is ostensibly a kid’s movie, but has the ferocious bite of a more mature, cynical production. It’s like Apatow and company (including director Steven Brill, who would go on to direct the similarly underrated Drillbit Taylor) specifically made a film from their summer camp experiences, but through the lens of adult eyes.
Heavyweights also takes a ton of bizarre turns throughout its 100 minute run time. Not only is Stiller unseated from his power position, but McGowan’s Finley takes over the camp after a Lord of the Flies-style montage of decadence. It is only then that the boys in camp can truly learn to work together, find themselves, and go on to defeat Camp MVP in the annual Apache Relay. It’s an awful bizarre 100 minutes, but it’s also bizarrely straightforward at the same time, as noted earlier.
I have a strong affinity for summer camp movies. Heavyweights, Wet Hot American Summer, and Meatballs are all films I’ve watched over and over again. There’s something about a lovable group of losers coming together to win the day that has an almost universal appeal. I realize I’ve spend this entire article gushing over what is ostensibly not a very good movie, but Heavyweights is a piece of 1995 I’ve long treasured and a movie I’ll gladly watch over and over again.
Next up in 1995, the best video-game-to-movie adaptation yet, Mortal Kombat.