A Matter of Size (2009) Review

Crafting a film that resonates with audiences is tricky. On one end of the spectrum is the safe path of rebooting an old concept or franchise that’s guaranteed to have a following. On the other end is the fringe of avant-garde, which seems to be the bastion of artists rather than entertainers. It’s rare that a new film can find a happy medium – presenting something familiar, yet fascinatingly strange. A Matter of Size is that film. It doesn’t really reveal anything new about the human condition, but the film does present a new perspective on body image, self-esteem and inner strength. If that’s not enticing enough, there are also Jewish Sumo wrestlers.

Herzl (Itzik Cohen) has had a weight problem ever since his childhood. Now an adult, he and his friends have joined a support group for overweight people, trying to shed excess pounds. Try as he might, however, he just can’t seem to lose the fat. When his morbid size costs him his position as a bartender, Herzl looks for new employment at the local Japanese restaurant where his coworkers praise him for his girth and introduce him to the time-honored sport of Sumo wrestling. With renewed confidence and a realistic goal ahead of him, Herzl convinces the Japanese restaurant owner Kitano (Togo Igawa) to train him and his friends for competition.

A Matter of Size is bursting with undeniable charm. First and foremost, it’s rare to see Jewish and Japanese cultures mixing so strongly in a film. So when Herzl meets Kitano for the first time and engages him in neutral English only to have Kitano respond in fluent Hebrew, it’s hard not to be pleasantly surprised. The journey of Herzl and his friends will also inspire smiles and sympathy. The majority of people will relate to the characters’ concerns about body image, specifically weight issues. With society shaming people into fitting a certain physical mold, it’s refreshing to see people turn their “disadvantage” into something that empowers them. It’s also nice to see a film represent men as being self-conscious, too. Sure, it’s been done before in previous films, but it’s a truth not represented enough.

The acting is strong and natural throughout. Itzik Cohen does a fine job leading the film. He has a surprising range and a great ability to be vulnerable for such a big man. The rest of the plus-sized cast are also fun to watch in their own respective ways, but special recognition goes to their fearlessness in taking the roles in the first place. Wearing nothing but a mawashi isn’t the most flattering look an actor wants to be remembered by.

The writing is a bit uneven here and there as the filmmakers tried to give each character their own little arc. While the intentions were noble, the plot also wears thin at times. Furthermore, Herzl and his friends are suggested to have a long history together, but their actions aren’t those of good friends. Early on, when Herzl has trouble convincing Kitano to train the group, Herzl’s friends abandon him to make preparations on his own. Later, another friend does something unforgivable to Herzl out of revenge. Finally, the group is not particularly supportive of their friend who comes to terms with his sexual orientation. The group of guys sometimes feels more like coworkers rather than buddies.

It’s also worth mentioning that there is a brief scene of strong homosexuality. It’s good to find filmmakers who aren’t simply content with suggesting a particular orientation. On the other hand, the sudden graphic assault is definitely jarring.

What audiences will appreciate most is the wonderful message of A Matter of Size. It’s about accepting others as they are and, more importantly, self-acceptance. So despite the few flaws audiences will enjoy their time with this memorable film.