There is a ton of stuff to cover and discuss about The Fanatic, and all of them are good. I’ll try my best to give you a picture of the in-joke brilliance behind director Fred Durst’s absorbing and nightmarish Los Angeles story. Let’s start with John Travolta.
Whether it’s playing a sound guy looking for the perfect scream (Blow Out) or embodying a mob boss (Gotti), John Travolta, when he’s at his best, simply just goes for it. The thespian resides on that plane with The Fanatic, playing an overeager and mentally unstable movie fan named Moose.
Moose spends his days in Hollywood collecting dollars taking pictures with tourists dressed up as a British bobby (hearing Moose affect an accent while saying “poppycock” is worth the price of admission). A few blocks away he lives in apartment crammed with movie memorabilia, and on his free time he patronizes a collectible shop called Hollywood Book and Poster.
At the aforementioned shop he gets a discount on a jacket worn that was worn by action hero Hunter Dunbar (Devon Sawa) in one of his hit movies. Moose plans to bring the jacket back to the Hollywood Book and Poster and have Dunbar signed the piece of memorabilia.
Living close to your work, being an avid cinephile and collecting movie items sounds perfectly fine, but Moose is not your average Joe. Director Fred Durst and co-writer Dave Bekerman don’t spell out Moose’s condition (one would assume he has autism), but basically Moose’s sole focus in life is to ingratiate himself into Hunter Dunbar’s world. Although Dunbar makes it abundantly clear that he wants nothing to do with Moose, our anti-hero doesn’t give up on his dream.
The only light in Moose’s world comes in the form of Leah (Ana Golja), a photographer who has a soft spot for Moose. Their friendship provides this thriller with a slight touch of tenderness, and a few more scenes spotlighting this union would have been welcome. That being said, Durst keeps his film a trim 88 minutes (the movie actually ends around the 82 minute mark), so maybe some choice material could have been left on the cutting room material.
Even with its tight length, there is more than enough layers that kept me absolutely intrigued with The Fanatic. Though the feature has stalker genre elements, it’s also a satire on the ravages and illusion on Los Angeles, a place where most folks struggle to make ends meet while the few get to live out their days a mile or two away in the Hollywood Hills.
Detractors of The Fanatic may view Travolta’s performance as pure scenery chewing, but his overall commitment to the role, as well as his surprisingly resonant take on Moose, shouldn’t be overlooked. Devon Sawa, who played an obsessed fan in the Eminem music video “Stan,” is the “star” this time around. Playing a narcissist who takes sexual advantage of his maid and listens to Limp Bizkit while driving his son to school, Hunter Dunbar is a total tool, and Sawa brings the appropriate level of jerkdom to the role (props to Durst for also making fun of his band).
There are a few in-jokes regarding Jamie Lee Curtis and The Fanatic cinematographer Conrad W. Hall that I appreciated, and there are enough meta moments in The Fanatic that should appeal to cinephiles.
All of these meta moments are fine and dandy, but Durst ups the ante with by providing a somewhat personal touch to the proceedings. I visited the now closed Hollywood Book and Poster more times than I can count back in the day, and it’s wonderful to see Durst, while offering his own dark and comedic take on Los Angeles, show a bit of his own affection for the more positive (and passionate) aspects of the Dream Factory.
Back in 2007 Durst came out with The Education of Charlie Banks, an underrated coming of age feature starring Jason Ritter and Jesse Eisenberg. Both Banks and The Fanatic are gripping explorations of the human psyche, and hopefully Durst will finally get his due as a first rate filmmaker.
The Fanatic should have its share of arguments over its validity as a piece of art or pure trash, and for what it’s worth I’m all aboard the art train. Travolta delivers a balls out performance in The Fanatic, and coupled with a strong narrative and engaged ensemble (Ana Golja, who provides the film’s Sunset Boulevard-ish voiceover, has star potential), this movie simply delivers the goods.
The Fanatic hits theaters August 30 and is set for a Digital and On Demand release on September 6.
Rating: 4 out of 5
Groupers director Anderson Cowan and I review The Fanatic in the latest episode of CinemAddicts starting at the 41:19 mark. We both have a different take on the film, but we each threw down four stars for this memorable flick. Take a listen below!