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Wayback Wednesday: Big Fat Liar (2002)

I would pay good money to see that Jaleel White chicken movie. 

Before you see the new Tarantino movie about the craziness of the filmmaking industry, let’s revisit a movie that did it first. That’s right. The Frankie Muniz classic, Big Fat Liar (2002) beat Academy Award-winner Quentin Tarantino to the punch. Quite embarrassing for Mr. Tarantino if you ask me. Seriously though, I was really in the mood to watch a goofy comedy from the early 2000s and when I scrolled past this on Netflix, I remembered how much fun I used to have watching it. Turns out, it’s still a ton of fun!

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Credit: / Universal Pictures

Big Fat Liar follows Jason Shepherd, a 14-year-old chronic liar who has his creative writing assignment stolen by Marty Wolf, a cruel Hollywood producer. Wolf uses Jason’s story as the basis for his next blockbuster movie, a fact Jason’s parents just wont believe. Accompanied by his best friend Kaylee, Jason travels to L.A. determined to get Wolf to confess, proving to his parents that he’s capable of telling the truth.

So, here are a couple fun facts about this movie. Director Shawn Levy, who really made a name for himself directing family movies like Cheaper by the Dozen (2003) and Night at the Museum (2006), is now a director and executive producer on mega-hit Stranger Things (2016 – present)! And speaking of TV, both the story and screenplay for Big Fat Liar are crafted by Nickelodeon legend Dan Schneider, creator of sitcoms such as Drake & Josh (2004 – 2007) and Zoey 101 (2005 – 2008). It honestly isn’t very shocking to discover that Schneider worked on this movie. Despite the inclusion of frequent collaborator Amanda Bynes (we’ll get to her in a minute), the comedy in Big Fat Liar is quintessential Schneider. The humour walks the incredibly thin line of being simple and childish for little kids, while also being surprisingly clever and tolerable for adults. Although its tone and stars are childlike, Big Fat Liar is still fairly mature and grounded. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that this is less of a kid’s movie and more of a comedy that just happens to star kids.

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Credit: / Universal Pictures

Speaking of, let’s talk about those stars. Frankie Muniz and Amanda Bynes ruled the early 2000s and the energy and charisma they bring to this movie makes it clear to see why. Muniz plays the type of smarmy wise guy that seemed to dominate every kids movie in the 2000s. Didn’t we all kind of want to be a kid like that? A smooth operator who was able to get away with anything and put evil adults in their place? I also love that Muniz is able to play to the platonic nature of his and Kaylee’s relationship. It’s not often that a movie doesn’t force its young protagonists to end up together and I applaud Big Fat Liar for doing something different. Muniz and Bynes play much better together as a comedy duo rather than love interests. It’s a shame Muniz’s career never really took off y’know? I’m pretty sure he’s doing just fine raking in all that Malcolm in the Middle (2000 – 2006) money, but I would have loved to see him grow into one of Hollywood’s leading men.

Similarly, it’s a shame that Amanda Bynes isn’t in more things. Though her filmography is brief, boy oh boy is it filled with great little gems like this one. In her first movie role Bynes is everything you want a 2000s teen queen to be. Relatable, sassy, cute, a closet full of colourful and fury sweaters, this was the first of many roles that proved just how easy it was to fall in love with Amanda Bynes. Also, I could listen to Bynes demanding “I want you to turn him into mincemeat and I don’t even know what mincemeat is!” all day.

As fun and charming as Muniz and Bynes are, the undisputed star of Big Fat Liar is Paul Giamatti. Giamatti is an incredible actor with a wide range who has been nominated for a number of prestigious awards and yet, this may be my favourite role of his. This movie belongs to him. As Marty Wolf, Giamatti doesn’t phone in his performance and truly gives it his comedic all. He plays Wolf like the mean-spirited kid on the playground who suddenly has all the power and resources of a wealthy executive. The type of grown-up villain kids love to hate, Giamatti is a delight to watch. His characterization and the way Wolf is written reminds me of Michael Scott. If Michael Scott didn’t have a heart or any redeeming qualities. The quick-witted name-calling and disregard for others’ feelings is enjoyably loathsome, and it’s hard to imagine anyone else playing this role. Everyone in this movie plays their part well but it’s Giamatti who makes it worthwhile.

If you were a kid when Big Fat Liar came out and haven’t seen it in a while, give it a watch. There are a ton of well-delivered and smartly-written bits of comedy that are so rapid-fire that they almost certainly flew over your head when you were younger. Like most kids movies, you get a better appreciation for them when you watch them as an adult. You know what else you’ll appreciate as an adult? The collection of famous faces that pop up in this movie! Taran Killam! Sandra Oh! Donald Faison! John Cho! How did I not recognize all these delightful actors before? They all look like they’re having so much fun in this silly, low-stakes family movie. Though the movie is targeted for children, I appreciate that each adult actor still treats Big Fat Liar as if it were any other comedy, delivering charming performances anyone can enjoy.

I unashamedly laughed out loud multiple times watching this movie. Sure there’s an abundance of slapstick comedy but who’s mad at that? Slapstick is great! I also laughed anytime Kaylee’s Grandma Pearl showed up for the simple reason that old people are hilarious. Oh by the way, did anyone else want to live forever in the prop house that Jason and Kaylee end up squatting in? It was every kid’s dream! Plus they got to have a closet makeover montage which I’m extremely jealous of. I never met a montage I didn’t like.

While it may not be the best family movie of all time, Big Fat Liar is a solid little comedy that doesn’t get enough recognition in my opinion. Hello, that elaborate revenge-filled finale? I love when a band of mistreated specialists come together to take down a big bad bully. I love that everyone gets to fuck with him in their own way. Finally let me leave you with this: Smash Mouth, tinted sunglasses, frosted tips, a palm pilot, calling it THE NET….this movie is so 2000s it hurts. And I love it.

What do you think of Big Fat Liar?

Let me me know in the comments or on social media!


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