February 14, 2002

Big Fat and Funny

Print More

Big Fat Liar is a comedy obviously geared towards the PG kiddie audience. It stars child actors Frankie Muniz from Malcolm in the Middle and Nickelodeon’s Amanda Byrnes, and has a storyline explained from an extremely kid-centric point of view. Nevertheless, it quite amusingly showcases a standoff between adults and children, with the grown-ups scoffing at the younger generation and refusing to take them seriously, only to find themselves very sorry that they ever messed with these precocious pre-teens.

Muniz plays Jason Shepherd, a smart-alecky 14-year-old with a fast mouth that continually spouts out outrageous lies. He especially has a forte for conjuring up crazy excuses on why he didn’t do his homework. All of his classmates are amused by his elaborate fabrications, but his teacher has had enough. She gives him an ultimatum: either turn in his writing assignment or fail class and repeat it in summer school.

Horrified at the threat of being deprived of his summer, Jason shapes up and ambitiously cranks out a creative story titled “Big Fat Liar.” While he rushes to turn it in, a limo rams into him and sends his homework papers flying. Inside is Marty Wolf (Paul Giamatti), an extreme caricaturization of a sleazy Hollywood producer — vain, self-centered, and superglued to his cell phone. Experiencing a dry spell in hit movies, Wolf takes one look at Jason’s story and steals it. Once Jason realizes the theft, it’s too late and he comes to his teacher empty-handed. Like the boy who cried wolf, he tries to explain what happened, but nobody bothers to believe Jason anymore.

But this particular “lie” has cost him big time. He has to spend his vacation doing work and, worst of all, his parents say they can’t trust him anymore. With his summer and integrity on the line, Jason is determined to redeem himself and force the truth out of Wolf. He and his pal Kaylie head down to Los Angeles and race around glitzy Tinseltown in search of Wolf’s whereabouts. There, they make his life a living hell and won’t let up until they get what they want — the truth.

While most of the humor is geared toward younger audiences, it deftly brings to the table issues that we all faced as kids. At one time or another nobody let us do anything or took us seriously because we were “too little,” and so we can feel and relate to Jason’s frustrations when the grownups underestimate or misunderstand him. Muniz portrays these dilemmas perfectly, nicely balancing the comic with an even dose of sincerity and vulnerability that makes his character so charismatic and sympathetic, despite his pathological lying and troublemaking. He and sidekick Byrnes also have a noticeable onscreen chemistry and remarkable comedic timing that allow them to pull off the action-packed, gag-driven scenes with ease. The film’s mockery of the superficiality of Hollywood is also hilarious, inspiring laughs with its stereotypes of the vain, money-driven, brown-nosing movie industry.

Having child stars might turn some off to the film, but viewers should give it a chance. You’ll be touched by the kids’ struggles to prove themselves worthy of the grownups, and you just might find yourself laughing at some of the slap-stick comedic action.

Archived article by Sherry Jun