Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Fatty Girl Goes to New York (1982)

AKA Cicciabomba
Directed by Umberto Lenzi
Starring Donatella Rettore, Gena Gas, Adriana Russo, Anita Ekberg

"Die, priest!"

There are two very difficult hurdles to get through before you can really enjoy the sorta-charming and quite sweet Fatty Girl Goes to New York. First, it was directed by Umberto Lenzi, the same crazy fucker that made Make Them Die Slowly. It is therefore quite difficult to watch this without flashing back to the scene with the live turtle getting hacked to ribbons, or any of the other bits of defenseless animal cruelty in that dumb movie. Who says he's not gonna hang a monkey or throw a kangaroo out the window in this one? Also, Fatty Girl is clearly not fat. She's a skinny girl with magic-marker freckles, cotton balls stuffed in her cheeks, and a series of clown-like fat suits. It's incredibly distracting, and almost Ed Wood-esque in its ineptitude.

But hey, besides the ridiculous looking protagonist and the constant threat of animal mutilation, things are pretty smooth sailing.

Mirsi (Donatella Rettore) is the 'Fatty Girl' of the title, a gregarious life-gulper whose self-esteem is sky-high, despite her weight and tragic wardrobe. Miri lives in a tiny Italian village called Happy, and works at Catholic Venetian Radio, where she hosts a popular call-in show, Magic Phone, the only program on the station that plays pop music and doesn't hold to a strict Catholic dogma. She's just as contrary at school, spending most of her time sticking up for her best friend Pinocchia (Adriana Russo, wearing a weird long-nose appliance) and plotting the downfall of cavalier cocksman Mirko (Dario Caporaso).

As the story begins, Mirko bribes Miri into writing a paper for his Greek class in exchange for a date, and then stands her up. Knowing this was his plan all along, Miri actually writes a paper detailing Mirko's plans to bone the principal's wife, thusly ending his career at that school.

Fuming, the freshly-expelled Mirko runs into Deborah (Gena Gas), Miri's vindictive beauty-queen sister, while she's being crowned Miss something-or-other. He quickly charms her and whisks her away in his car, sash and all. After hearing Miri on the radio and declaring his hate for her, he finds out that he just picked up his arch-enemy's sister, and together, they plot her downfall. Mirko invents an alter-ego, "Angelo". Angelo sends Miris flowers and calls in to her radio show, telling her how much he needs her. The vulnerable Miris falls in love with her phantom admirer, and so, when he leaves a note to meet him at the park one evening, she rushes to him - dressed exactly like the Hamburgler, in a striped shirt, giant floppy hat, and a cape - only to find a smirky Mirko and his douchebag friends. They spray her with hoses and call her "Fatty girl" until she cries.

The next day, someone brings in a tape of Miris declaring her love for "Angelo" and plays it over the intercom at school. And then she gets fired from the radio station. They replace her with a nun. Miris can take no more abuse, and decides to commit suicide. But before she puts her head in the oven, she decides to eat her last box of chocolates. Inside the box, she finds a golden envelope. She opens it to find that she's won a prize: a free trip to New York City.
"I'll kill myself another day," she says. "I won first prize!"

Miris makes it to New York and while she's riding the escalator in the airport, she's spotted by Baroness Von Kemp (a very past-her-prime Anita Ekberg).
"There she is," the Baroness shouts at her assistant. "I've found my creature!"

Seems the Baroness has inherited some sort of diet-powder company from her dead husband, and she wants to use Miris as her test subject. Since the gunk is made from swordfish bones, she dresses Miris up in a fish costume for the "before" picture in a proposed magazine ad. Miris is not quite sure why this is happening - she tells the Baroness repeatedly that she's happy being fat - but what the hell. Crazy shit happens in New York.

So, Miris spends her days eating fishbone soup and running around Times Square in a bright orange jumpsuit. Eventually, she loses the weight and gets a makeover, which is awesome, because watching her walk around in the clown suits for 40 minutes was pretty tiresome. Unfortunately, this being 1982 - and an Italian 1982, at that - her new look involves giant shoulder pads and a blonde Duran Duran pompadour. So I'm not sure it was much of an improvement. Anyway, she goes on a television show and performs a song (Rettore was actually an Italian pop star at the time) that goes, in part, "My head exploded/with these thin legs, I'd like a sandwich."

Soon, everybody wants their own bowl of fishbone soup. To show how much of a star Miris has become, Lenzi has her do the 'My Head Exploded' song over and over, in different outfits. Occasionally he even flashes a hilariously unconvincing cut-and-pasted magazine cover with Miris' face on it.

Miris spends some time in soaking up the limelight, but eventually decides to go home and rub everybody's face in her fame and good looks. She runs into her friend Pinnocchia, who had plastic surgery to snip off her long, pointy nose. The two hotsy-totsies head over to Miris' house, where they find Deborah on the roof, threatening to jump.

Turns out Mirko, that cad, promised to marry her and then changed his mind, telling her he's marrying the mayor's daughter, Simona (adorable Paola Rinaldi), instead. Naturally, Miris concocts a plan to fuck up Mirko's life again.

I'll leave you to find out how she does it. It involves a chicken and a transvestite.

The very height of frivolous - and surprisingly coy, especially from a guy who directs cannibal movies - Fatty Girl Goes to New York is nevertheless pretty fuckin' delightful. This was Rettore's first film, and despite the ridiculous half-hour she spent in a fat suit, she did fine job playing the ever-plucky Miris. During the second half of the movie she pretends to be an FBI agent from New York City, and does a squeaky American accent (in Italian) that's quite funny. Its been mentioned that you don't actually need to know Italian to watch and enjoy this movie, and it's true. The half-assed subtitles help, of course, but if they weren't there, Rettore's animated performance and faux-American squeals tell the story perfectly. There are also some very funny regional flourishes: the grumpy priest, Miris' chief rival at the radio station, opens his morning-drive show with "It's 7 AM...more or less."
That seems hilariously Italian to me. There's lots of treacly 80's Italian pop to sample on the soundtrack, hideous fashions to scoff at, and some very striking women to ogle, including the gorgeous Gena Gas who, like Rettore, was a pop singer dabbling in acting. Hardcore sleaze beasts or celebrity skin enthusiasts will probably want to stay away from this lighter-than-air concoction, but if you're in the mood for some wispy, goofy fun, Fatty Girl Goes to New York is well worth a look. It does not let Lenzi off the hook for Make Them Die Slowly, but it at least shows he was capable of more than penis chopping and animal abuse.

: Fatty Girl Goes to New York is available on DVD.

Clip: Listen to Gena Gas's 1982 hit SOS Ti Amo!

Clip: Rettore as Miris in Fatty Girl:

Clip: Rettore perfoming Kamikaze Rock N' Roll Suicide on some loony Italian TV show, 1982:

- Ken McIntyre

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