Heavyweights is now more known for its historical significance than its moments on screen. It is here we can trace some of the most influential moviemakers of the 2000's. Heavyweights marks Ben Stiller's first film (his Dodgeball character is eerily similar to this one). The movie is also where Paul Feig and Judd Apatow met each other (Feig is a character, and Apatow is the producer). Those two would create Freaks and Geeks, and some of the best comedies of the new Millennium. It also now looks more like a 90's period piece as time goes on. Heavyweights is a very funny film about obese teens at a weight loss camp. It may not be deep, but it is one of the funniest films of the decade that set the stage for the comedy icons of a new generation of kids.
Gerry Garner (Aaron Schwartz), feels pretty great. School is out, and now he can just hang out for the summer. His father (Jeffrey Tambor) has other plans: he believes Jerry needs to lose weight, and thus he sends them to Camp Hope. At first Camp Hope seems like a paradise: Jerry can ride go-carts and be fast, and he is put in an awesome bunk with camp legends Roy (Kenan Thompson) and Josh (Shaun Weiss). However, the previous camp owner (Jerry Stiller) goes bankrupt, and in steps new owner Tony Perkis (Ben Stiller) son of the lighting fixture king of the Midwest. Perkis transforms the previously fun camp into a prison, not only running the camp with an iron fist, but demoting previous counselors Pat (Tom McGowan) and Tim (Paul Feig) to janitorial positions. Gerry, Pat, and the others must step up to stop Perkis before he makes them sick or hurts anyone with his extreme methods.
Heavyweights falls more in the silly comedy camp, but it is at least relatable to anyone who wants to lose some weight. Apatow, Director Steven Brill, and company know how execute a joke well, especially at the expense of a villain. In the more slapstick comedies, villains are so over the top they become narcissistic buffoons. As such, all their self-serious dialogue is purely tongue in cheek and usually generates uproarious laughter. In one scene, Ben Stiller says "Put the fruit trays away, the insects will be out soon" with the gravitas of Al Pacino in the Godfather. Because of the extreme seriousness of Stiller's delivery, this throwaway line kills, and Heavyweights is replete with dozens more.
The kids used in the film had previously been in other kids films and are seasoned comedy vets. Most importantly, they are not used as the butt of the joke, which makes them instantly sympathized by the audience. Much like a 90's kids movie as well, self-respect is treated with more importance than the initial goal of losing weight, making friends, etc. Self-respect is something all kids crave, making any of these kids relatable to the audience. Their personalities are fleshed out just enough to not make them types as well. Most of the kids get a moment to be more than the British one, the scientist, the cool kid, etc.
Heavyweights biggest failing is being too broad and surface-level as a comedy. Most of the rival sports camp kids are so obviously painted as the jerk jocks that the final competition between the camps feels less important than the stand off with Tony Perkis. Funny accents take too much precedence in some characters, and fart jokes are unnecessary because the dialogue is so good. Also, any deep thoughts on weight loss camps and the people who run them are pushed to the side in favor of a cheap gag. Fortunately the comedy well is deep and clever, but a little more ambition could have made Heavyweights into one of the all time great comedies.
The comedy talent alone in Heavyweights is worth the time investment. Most of these actors were really on the rise when this movie came about, and their jokes have a freshness and bite nicely fitting its 90's era. If anything, you will come out of this movie with some really great quotes. You'll get a laugh if you walk into a room with "Mmmm...can you smell it? There's a life force in here tonight!" or if you have a friend falling behind you can say "Leave him, he's a straggler!." Just thinking about them now makes me chuckle, and like Heavyweights, stay with you for a long time.