Lighten the Load
by Shane Miller
Mar 23, 2010 | 4586 views | 0 0 comments | 56 56 recommendations | email to a friend | print
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In the history of movie making, there's been no shortage of actors and actresses who have undergone physical changes to land choice roles. Christian Bale dropped 60 pounds for the lead role in The Machinist, Robert De Niro gained the same amount to play Jake La Motta in Raging Bull, and Renee Zellweger went from a size 6 to a size 14 for her role in Bridget Jones's Diary. But few - if any - actors have ever drastically changed their appearance for not only art's sake, but also to save their lives.

But that's the story of Carmine Famiglietti, a Queens native and star and writer of Lbs. (read “pounds”), which will make its theatrical debut on March 26 in theaters in New York City, Minneapolis, Boston, and Washington, D.C.

Lbs. is the story of Neil Perota, a 385-pound man who lives with his parents in Brooklyn and suffers a heart attack just days before his sister's wedding, forcing her to postpone the lavish affair. The episode causes a severe rift in the family, especially when Neil is caught by his sister's fiancee gorging at a nearby pizzeria, breaking the diet he was put on by his doctor. The tension finally reaches a breaking point, and Neil flees to upstate New York where he buys a dilapidated trailer and vows not to return to Brooklyn until he loses the weight.

The intriguing thing about Lbs. is that Neil's story is in many ways the story of Famiglietti. When filming began in 2001, Famiglietti himself weighed close to 400 pounds, and over 27 months of filming he shed close to 200 pounds, matching the weight loss that the fictional Neil goes through. It's an emotional performance, and is a movie that is a more thoughtful and ernest look at obesity than the pre-packaged Supersize Me, which was shown at several film festivals the same year as Lbs.

“I told myself, 'I'm going to do this movie to save my life,'” Famiglietti said in an interview with It's Queens at North Shore Diner in Flushing. “This film was made with a lot of sacrifice and passion. I knew I could do it.”

Lbs. was directed by Matthew Bonifacio, who also co-wrote the script with Famiglietti. Longtime friends, Famiglietti said Bonifacio's friendship was instrumental in making the film, as well as supporting him as he struggled to shed the weight. A less-sympathetic director could have abandoned Lbs. before it even got off the ground, which in and of itself has been a long road.

Things didn't work out with the first distributor, and the finished movie languished for years, despite positive reviews and receptions at festivals like Sundance and Tribeca. Then a major cable company made a six-figure offer for the movie, but Famiglietti turned it down, believing in his heart that Lbs. was headed for the theaters. Turning down the offer was another time when Bonifiacio's friendship was instrumental. “I don't expect everyone to be as insane as me about the film, but we both believed that it deserved a theatrical release,” he said.

Famiglietti is realistic about the future success of Lbs., but also optimistic. He points to the Oscar-nominated Precious, which was a small independent film that got a big boost from some bold-faced names. “We just need to find our Tyler Perry or Oprah Winfrey,” Famiglietti said.

Famigletti is open and honest about his struggles with food addiction and the comfort he finds in it, as well his struggles to live in a society that often promotes unhealthy eating choices. Indeed, when he sat down with It's Queens he initially passed on ordering food, but the waitress told him he couldn't sit at a table if he didn't eat. He just laughed and grabbed a menu.

“When I found out that we wouldn't have to shoot any more scenes, I went on a three-day binge and gained 24 pounds,” recalled Famigletti. “In many ways, I always knew that I was going to be making this movie for the rest of my life.”

For more information on Lbs., visit lbsthemovie.com.

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