The Fanatic is a special kind of bad. A film that seems very connected with the uglier side of its creator and possibly its star. One must be slightly careful when making such remarks. This writer cannot be inside the head of the filmmakers. However, it is difficult to separate The Fanatic’s shallow disregard for Hollywood as well as fandom when you consider the music career of the film’s director. As a lapsed fan of Limp Bizkit, it is not surprising that this Fred Durst-helmed feature holds as much depth as the song ‘Nookie’. But it is important to realise that while Durst fronted a band which gleefully labelled one their albums a slang term for anus… one cannot fault the energy that albums like that brought to a late-adolescent college-goer.
The Fanatic feels very much like Mel Gibson produced Paparazzi (2004) in that both films seemed to be vehemently frustrated at particular elements of stardom, but due to their dislike of said element, the only real response is one of tone-deaf, almost mocking acting out. We are at a point in which celebrity and fandom have opened several doors and allowed all of us to become disturbingly close to people we admire. However, The Fanatic is not interested in really exploring that link. Then again, the film holds no interest in its titular fanatic character played by John Travolta. It holds no satirical edge or sympathy as we get in Ingrid Goes West (2017). Far from it. What we get is a very overcommitted Travolta sporting a pandemic lockdown haircut, sniffing his ear, and loudly stating of his need to poop.
Travolta plays Moose, an overly loyal horror fan whose obsession with his favourite star slowly swings out of control, when his paparazzi photographer delivers him a chance to get up close and personal with his idol. This kernel of an idea could have had some legs, if not for the fact that Moose is somewhat mentally underdeveloped. What’s wrong with Moose is never described (with good reason), but it’s utilised in a way to mine cheap sympathy from a character with no actual depth or logical reasoning. For all the misgivings I have for Todd Phillips’ Joker (2019), kudos should be given for never making that character’s issues as cheap as those we see here. This is probably because Phillips borrows so heavily from The King of Comedy (1982) that we obtain a sense of those characters’ injustice despite their disturbing nature. The Fanatic has Travolta gurning and grimacing for the camera and just doing “things” in a way that could be considered crass and insensitive for some, plain stupid for others. Either way it never feels that Durst or Travolta give a damn about what they’re trying to bring across other than personal grievances with being celebrities in the spotlight.
It’s all a bit mean-spirited. Moose may be a middle-aged man, but he is childlike in his behaviour. Moose just wants to watch films and collect autographs. Everyone around him treats him with varying degrees of contempt. He’s cheated out of the things he desires, yet the film also uses his disability as a plot crutch. Too immature to comprehend his environment, unless of course the film needs him to be a psychopath. The Fanatic portrays autism in a way similar to other films that like to demonise the individuals who inhabit fringe societies and sub-cultures.
It also buries sub-plots so deep into the ground, it’s almost not worth bringing them up to talk about. However, due to the lack of detail placed within the screenplay, we are given supporting female roles who are cast aside despite the film almost hinting at an element of importance. Because of this the film holds every woman up as a device as cheap as the film’s view of the main character’s psychological impairments. It’s also riddled with the type of cliché that’s expected if you believe someone has an axe to grind. The celebrity pap who wants to be a TMZ lapdog. The bitchy ex-wife whose appearance seems only to provide more back story to the celebrity. Said celebrity is a man who we have more empathy for than the protagonist because he’s a Damn Good Parent. Despite easily slipping to the end of his tether with Moose rather quickly. That said it is not hard, because the film doesn’t really like Moose.
The weirdness truly sets in when Durst decides to try and place his auteur stamp on the film. Do we really need a character hyping Limp Bizkit like the celebrity actor (Devon Sawa) does? When Moose craps on the remake of Maniac (2012), why does it sound less like an organic put down from a passionate film fan, and more like a personal grudge on a movie Durst just does not like? Do we need bizarre sketches thrown in seemingly at random? If so, what are they giving us that the cliché-ridden narration or the film itself is not already doing? For me, the most ridiculous thing is how well they capture all this narrative banality.
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The film’s cinematographer is Conrad W Hall, son of the three-time academy award winner Conrad L Hall. If anything, visually The Fanatic shows that the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree. The Fanatic may not be Cool Hand Luke (1967) or Road to Perdition (2002) but it is shot as if the script isn’t just a gussied-up version of a Lifetime TV movie.
A lot of current internet fandom is toxic. But the broad generalised strokes placed here by Durst and Travolta are as revealing as when filmmakers claim that financially disappointing films are only made “for the fans”. It’s a film that helps push the idea that loyalty is of course nothing more than a commodity. Despite my issues with how fandom is utilised, co-opted, or displayed, the mockery made here of other folks’ passion is rather dubious. Watching a film which has the likes of Travolta and Durst no longer operating under the strongest focus of spotlight, yet appearing in a film which seems crabby at the folks who helped put them there, has the obnoxious stink that one would expect. That said, the film is just enough of an oddity to provide cult ironic revisits for millennials such as myself who bumped a lot of Significant Other on their Sony Discmans. Go Figure.
The Fanatic is out now on UK Digital Download and will be released on DVD on 20th July.