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'Fatso': The Diet of Pagliacci
By Michael S. Goldberger, iBerkshires Film Critic
01:08PM / Friday, September 18, 2020
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I wish that I were reviewing one of the half-dozen movies certain to be made when this pox upon our house is no more. But until that glorious return to normality has us resuming all the simple joys of life we take for granted, like going to the movies, I'll be retro-reviewing and thereby sharing with you the films that I've come to treasure over the years, most of which can probably be retrieved from one of the movie streaming services. It is my fondest hope that I've barely put a dent into this trove when they let the likes of me back into the Bijou.

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On Sunday evening, just about midnight, I allow myself a nice big piece of pie and a glass of milk. Sometimes it's a generous slice of cake … usually chocolate. It's my reward for being "good" all week. Meaning I ate so-called sensibly for the previous six days. I look forward to the ritual, and when tempted on any other day to imbibe some multicaloric delight, the good little angel on my right shoulder hearteningly whispers, "Sunday's coming."
 
Thus, unlike Dom DeLuise's Dominick DiNapoli, from whom this seriocomic look at the torturous woes of overeating gets its title, I kind of, sort of, have my proclivity for consuming whatever strikes my gastronomic fancy under control. But what folks passing me on the street don't know while mistaking me for either Cary Grant or Clark Gable, depending on my delusional whim that day, is that beneath that broad-shouldered, well-proportioned gent there is a "Fatso" in remission.
 
That's right. Just a few injudicious, gustatory backslides, lapses of control and throwing skyward of hands to the unfairness of life and I'm Sydney Greenstreet in a white suit, huffing out of breath as I try to gain best advantage from Rick in my purchase of his Café Americain. It's the only other cool thing to be if your dietary shortcomings preclude you from leading man status.
 
Of course, it's all poppycock, a rather unfair way to construe self-image. But then you don't see too many Greek and Roman statues of fitfully obese people. It's ingrained. Which is why Dominick is perennially at odds with himself and, due to the resultant lack of confidence, sans a partner to sit across from whilst enjoying a reasonable-sized portion of meatballs and spaghetti.
 
While some conflictedly sad souls cry in their beer, for Dominick it's minestrone.
 
Almost as anguished by her brother's weighty plight is Antoinette, wonderfully portrayed by Anne Bancroft, who also wrote and directed. And, more miffed than pained by what he sees as his sibling's bothersome lack of self-control is Ron Carey as Frankie, aka Junior, who intolerantly informs, "You love bread, I don't love bread, I only LIKE bread."
 
And so, after a lifetime of failed diets, the equivocation, rationalization and mystification of one's inability to drown out the sirens of the smorgasbord, on and on it would have continued: the self-hatred, self-pity and multi-pronged recrimination. But then Sal, his 39-year-old cousin and kindred spirit in cuisine both haute and junk, dies of a heart attack. It is the watershed — the proverbial wakeup call — if Dominick will heed it.
 
At the food-laden funeral, sobbing in sweet memories of his favorite eating buddy, he bemoans, "Poor Sal, he always had something good to eat on him." And then, realizing his anger at both Sal's overindulgence and the unkind fates, he looks toward the coffin and utters a despaired, bittersweet incongruity: "You could have been sitting here, eating all this good food."
 
Shortly thereafter, as if there were a great diet plan delivered from the Heavens and working in consort with Cupid, replete with deus-ex-machina privileges, there enters stage left, Lydia, the potential sugar substitute extraordinaire played with sweet compassion by Candice Azzara. Hope springs eternal.
 
Dating Lydia, Dominick suddenly realizes his clothes are looser. He isn't eating as much. All of which reminds that sexual appetite is among the greatest of motivators, the expression, "… neither love nor money," most often affirming the hopelessness of a pursuit.
 
Indeed, Dominick is tragicomic and, while I feel for him, I couldn't help but laugh at the familiar folly of my brother in gluttony. Perhaps it's because if we don't laugh at ourselves we will take this whole cascade of bewilderment known as life more seriously than is healthy. Or, at least that's how I explained it when my wife expressed surprise that I didn't take umbrage at the Pillsbury Doughboy-like pokes Bancroft's script takes at Dominick.
 
And there is the rub. Alas, mixed into each laugh-evoking whimsy about the rituals and idiosyncrasies that play into pigging out, there lies in wait the dark truth. And while you're feeling terrible about what society erroneously labels a lack of willpower, thoughts about the impoverished, starving millions not blessed with your curse of overabundance doesn't help.
 
Woven into the backdrop of a tightknit, Italian American family in which food plays an important, nay, vital, part, the plot and its complications are spiced with an abiding love for its title character. But while it sure would be fun to go on an eating spree with Dominick — "Here, try this, try that; ooh, isn't it good?" — our better sense says we should Uber him to the spa.
 
"Fatso" (1980), dealing with our fifth most dire national problem, right behind Trump's corruption, racism, climate control and poverty, honestly, humorously and with deadly serious concern between its comical whistles by the graveyard, sings an anthem of ambivalence that wishfully intones, "Oh, to have your cake and eat it, too.'
 
"Fatso," rated PG, is a Twentieth Century Fox release directed by Anne Bancroft and stars Dom DeLuise, Anne Bancroft and Candice Azzara. Running time: 93 minutes
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