Fat guys sometimes do things. Movies think it’s hilarious. “He can’t be a mall cop, he’s too fat!” “He can’t be an ultimate fighter, he’s too fat!” “He can’t be a zookeeper, he’s too fat!” Or whatever that last movie was about. In any case, screw you, Hollywood. Us fat guys do things sometimes, and sometimes we’re just plain awesome at it.
Case in point: Cuban Fury, a smart and funny comedy starring Nick Frost as an introverted guy who takes up salsa dancing to woo his co-worker, Rashida Jones. Along the way he has to battle an office rival for her affections, played by a particularly dickish Chris O’Dowd, and shave his chest and wear sparkly shirts and oh, that should be the funny part, but it’s not. The funniest part of Cuban Fury is that there’s actually nothing to laugh at. There’s plenty to laugh with instead.
Bruce (Nick Frost) was already a great salsa dancer before Cuban Fury begins, but he abandoned his passions years ago after a traumatic incident involving bullies and the low digestibility threshold of sequins. Now a full-grown man, lonely and socially awkward, he’s paid the price for abandoning his most valuable means of personal expression. He may be inspired to pick up salsa dancing again after learning his lovely new co-worker Julia (Rashida Jones) is taking classes, but he can’t buy her affections with a deft copa. But he can better himself through training, discipline and an attractive, increased level of self-confidence.
Cuban Fury isn’t really a “fat guy does stuff” movie. In some respects it’s barely a dance movie. Cuban Fury is a kung fu movie at heart, emphasizing the pursuit of personal expression through physical grace, and leading, yes, to a dance battle for Jones’s heart. The fact that she isn’t present for it, doesn’t know about it and has made no promises to the winner is a little besides the point. Bruce pummels the hood of a car through the sheer power of dance as a lithe, masculine display of his own worth, and even his greatest enemy, if you can call him that, is eventually forced to acknowledge Bruce’s worthiness. Then the movie continues, traditional dance movie storytelling clichés be damned, to a more satisfying and mature conclusion. Improving yourself is worth time and effort. Simply besting the bad guy is cheap.
Besides, Drew (Chris O’Dowd) isn’t even a “bad guy.” If you look at him hard enough you see that his blowhardiness is a bluff, masking some very real insecurity. Cuban Fury may be a kung fu dance movie in structure but it relies on likable, genuine characters to make the storyline work. Bruce is insecure but even that is just a defense mechanism; he learned ago that pursuing his passions has a potential downside that hurts too much to risk repeating. Bruce’s sister and former dance partner Sam (Olivia Colman) is hard drinking but supportive sister and brings out an openness in Bruce that he doesn’t experience with anyone else. In fact, if you look closely, every character in Cuban Fury interacts differently each of the others while always remaining true to their natures; that’s a feat of mature screenwriting that most other comedies, or dramas for that matter, can’t be bothered with.
And yes, it’s funny. I promise you it’s funny. It’s just such an interesting comedy to talk about because the jokes aren’t the point; the story would be likable and invigorating even if the cast and the director took Cuban Fury dead seriously from start to finish. Cuban Fury occasionally resorts to an easy gag, but when it does it lets the cleverly developed characters interact with those situations in a believable, amusing way. In the end you’re just so involved with Bruce’s journey that you don’t even care that you laughed most of the way through it, you care because you actually care. You care about a movie with a premise that most studios or filmmakers wouldn’t have even bothered to make watchable, let alone meaningful. As a film critic, and a fat guy, and a plain old fashioned being, it means a lot to me that Cuban Fury tried to let its hero be more than a cliché, even when his lot in life is looks a little silly at a distance. It means even more that it succeeded.