Retro Review: ‘Heavyweights’
Beginning with 2005’s 40 Year Old Virgin, writer/director/producer Judd Apatow has been one of the top makers of comedy in Hollywood. Modern moviegoers know him from his many hit films, but early in his career he penned along with director Steven Brill, a movie for Disney which has become a bit of a fan favorite. On surface level, 1995’s Heavyweights is a standard family friendly comedy from the House of Mouse, but once you watch it it is undeniable that this is a smartly written comic gem that more people need to check out.
Any plans Gerry Garner may have had for the summer are dashed when his parents ship him off to Camp Hope, a prominent “fat camp” to lose weight. Though he has apprehensions, his fellow campers as well as the counselors who have been through the program themselves quickly make him feel at home. The summer fun comes to an abrupt end when a wannabe fitness guru Tony Perkis, played by a manic Ben Stiller takes over the camp in order to turn it into footage for a planned series of motivational fitness videos. Tony embarks on a reign of terror for both the campers and the counselors as well. But he can only push things too far before they unite to overthrow the power mad camp owner and take it over for themselves.
The humor in Heavyweights truly has something for everyone. There are plenty of goofy jokes for the kids as well as some welcome dark humor for the adults. In fact many criticized the film upon it’s initial release due to the strange blend of cynical satire and warm-hearted family comedy. Considering the movie is set at a “fat camp” there are plenty of low hanging “fat jokes” for Apatow and Brill to draw from. Ultimately the ones they roll with are ultimately harmless as the movie truly has a body positive spirit to it where the characters learn to embrace who they are.
Ben Stiller plays a prototype of his character from Dodgeball in the fitness guru-wannabe Tony Perkis. He hams it up to perfection as a lunatic who has an army of children at his command who he hopes will lead to him becoming a top star on the workout video market. He is obsessive to the point that his mind has cracked as he carries on like a mad man. Considering the cast both child and adult is incredibly charming and likable we legitimately root for them as they try to depose Tony.
Heavyweights proved to be a film that may have been ahead of it’s time as nowadays Apatow’s brand of comedy is now solidly in the mainstream in a way it was not in the 90’s. As more and more Disney movies from this era are seeing a resurgence in popularity this is one which will hopefully get it’s due.