By Mark Saldana 

            If any SXSW should carry the description, “Crowd pleaser” or “Makes you want to stand up and cheer,” this should be that movie.  I sincerely mean that with no hint of sarcasm whatsoever.  Director Matthew Lillard (actor from SCREAM, SCOOBY DOO) makes his directorial debut with an awesomely triumphant film based on the young adult novel by KL Going.  Troy Billings (Jacob Wysocki) is a depressed, overweight high school student who has decided to commit suicide.  When he steps into the street to get hit by a bus, a punk musician named Marcus McCrae (Matt O’Leary) intervenes and saves his life.  McCrae and Billings instantly become friends.  Marcus convinces Troy to start a punk rock band with him. Troy soon learns that Marcus is a homeless high school dropout and drug addict.  Because Troy owes his second chance at life to Marcus, he decides that he must save him before it is too late.

            With a superb screenplay by Michael M.B. Galvin and Peter Speakman, Lillard does an outstanding job with his first film. It truly is a story with which most people can relate.  Now, honestly it doesn’t present a story that hasn’t been told previously; however, it still does so in its own unique style.  The performances by Wysocki and O’Leary had me close to tears.  These two young actors are incredible.  The film also features an excellent turn by Billy Campbell (TV’s THE KILLING) as Troy’s stern father.  I had the pleasure of speaking with Lillard during the festival. 

            Lillard chose this project as his debut film as it was one that captured his heart.  He could relate to the characters, particularly Troy.  “I was that kid. I was overweight. I was never a cool kid in high school. I found drama and it changed my life.  He finds punk rock music.  I saw in me what Troy is.”  I asked Lillard if he had read Going’s novel.  Lillard stated, “I was given the book on tape and as soon as I finished it, I called my agent and wanted to make this movie.  That was nine years ago.” On his struggles to get the film made, Lillard responded, “It was hard to sell the story of an obese teenager.  It’s not sexy.  It took me nine years to get this movie made.” Well, the time was certainly worth the wait as Lillard has begun a new career directing with a wonderful debut.

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