To Be Fat Like Me



9-11 p.m., Monday, Jan. 8

Does putting on prosthetics and makeup that makes you look like a fat girl really turn you into one? This is the somewhat intriguing premise of "To Be Fat Like Me," an overheated and preachy but not unwatchable semi-fact-based Lifetime original telepic that actually features a couple of standout performances from Kaley Cuoco ("8 Simple Rules") and Caroline Rhea in uncharacteristically serious roles.

"Fat" is taken from the story of Ali Schmidt, now a college freshman but a guinea pig for a network news special on childhood obesity when she was in high school in New York. She donned a fat suit and facial mask to make her look like a 250-pound teenager and had a hidden camera in her backpack to chart the reactions at school. And what do you know, the shallow adolescents in her midst poked merciless fun at her, far more so than when she was a 129-pound babe. I mean, who'd a thunk it?

All right, so this isn't such a terribly profound social experiment. It's still interesting enough material if handled right, and this flick makes it about halfway there before stumbling over its own bloated sense of sociological import. Perhaps part of that stems from Lifetime's tie-in of the film to its second annual Living Healthy initiative designed to encourage viewers to make healthy lifestyle decisions -- as opposed to the fattening junk that it often promotes in its on-air advertising.

Cuoco stars as Aly, a gorgeous, blond, popular and athletic high school junior who eats nothing fattening in order to maintain her slim figure. But the perfect little life comes crashing down when a sports injury prevents her from landing a full-ride softball scholarship. She rescues her otherwise bummer of a summer by hooking up with a classmate filmmaker (Rachel Cairns) on a project exploring intolerance of the obese, a topic with which she already is far too familiar given the weight problems suffered by her mother (Rhea) and little brother (Brandon Olds). Aly, of course, winds up getting far more than she bargained for: taunts, humiliation, wrenching insecurity and -- not least -- the false-pretenses befriending of actual fattie Ramona (Melissa Halstrom) and her nerd friend Michael (Carlo Marks).

It's an interesting idea, this whole notion of going undercover to explore how things change so radically inside a flabby body. But it gives way in the second half of "Fat" to a navel-gazing examination that is far too self-absorbed and righteous in scribe Michele Lobretta's teleplay. Aly mopes around, ignoring her dreamboat boyfriend and snapping cruelly at her well-meaning mom to the point where she fully ceases to be likable. We really just want her to shut up already or at least eat one lousy cupcake, you know? Alas, it is not to be. Lobretta and director Doug Barr must share the blame for allowing the material to play as far more strident and heavy-handed than it needs to be. Yes, we treat the overweight badly in this culture. We get it. Thanks very much.

That said, Cuoco and especially Rhea handle what they are given with great conviction, showing off genuine range. And the point of the film, when not driven down our throats (and into our stomachs), is a sound one. We do treat clear-skinned blondes with sinewy bodies with far more respect than we do those who wear glasses and 100 extra pounds and who never exercise. It will no doubt always be thus.

Ardmore Prods. for Lifetime Television
Executive producers: Mike Jacobs Jr., Michael Givens
Producers: Paul Rayman, Michael Shepard
Director: Doug Barr
Teleplay: Michele Lobretta
Director of photography: Peter Benison
Production designer: Eric Fraser
Costume designer: Martha Curry
Prosthetics artist: Joel Echallier
Editor: Nicole Ratcliffe
Music: Hal Foxton Beckett
Casting: Stacey Rosen, Melissa Perry
Aly: Kaley Cuoco
Madelyn: Caroline Rhea
Ramona: Melissa Halstrom
Michael: Carlo Marks
Janie: Rachel Cairns
Kendall: Adrienne Carter
Adam: Brandon Olds
Jim: Michael Phenicie
George: Scott Little
Warren: Ben Cotton
Eddie: Matt Bellefleur