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Review: Scrappy, sad ‘TransFatty’ rages against degenerative illness and revels in a rollicking life

Though its title, read as an adjective/plural noun, might suggest a movie about fast-food eaters, “TransFatty Lives” is actually a proper name followed by a verb, and that verb is key to this scrappy documentary about battling illness with creativity. Patrick Sean O’Brien, a bearded, mischievous New York-based filmmaker/DJ known as TransFatty, was diagnosed with ALS in 2005. Though the condition, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, is degenerative, it inspired a desire to keep life as rollicking and art-filled as possible and to film it all at the same time.

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The result is a raucous, weird, occasionally fascinating entry in the genre of disease-documenting, a portrait of raw nerve in the face of deteriorating nerves: The wheelchair becomes a camera dolly, friends and family become supportive crew members, and when O’Brien falls in love and fathers a child, his future son becomes the ultimate audience for his legacy mission of sorts. By the time an overwhelmingly paralyzed, ventilator-dependent O’Brien is confined to a nursing home, sadness can’t help but descend on his life-extending artistic mission. (O’Brien now communicates, as he did during the editing process, with pupil movement.) But for much of the time, “TransFatty Lives” is an affirming rage against stillness, of any kind.

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“TransFatty Lives”

MPAA Rating: None

Running time: 1 hour, 25 minutes.

Playing: Downtown Independent and on VOD


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