Stephen King's THINNER (Thanks For Asking!) / by B. Roche


Thinner is mediocre, but it would be almost impossible to do better with the material as is. They could have cut the gypsies, though.

Thinner's about small-town Maine lawyer Billy Halleck (Robert John Burke). Billy happens to be obese. Everyone talks to him about it. Not just his wife or doctor, but every person Billy encounters tells him he should go on a diet. One night, driving home from a celebratory dinner after winning a case for a mafia client, Billy gets distracted while his wife is giving him a blowjob and he runs over a gypsy woman. Billy gets off thanks to a friendly judge, but the woman's father sees Billy outside the courtroom and touches his face. "Thinner," the old man says. And Billy starts to get thinner, and thinner.

Right there in that paragraph is everything that is great and problematic in Stephen King's work.

Even in 2017, there's tremendous value in a story about a person uncontrollably losing weight. We only have the one body. If it betrays us, that's terrifying. Back in 1996 the options for special effects are sparse, so Burke has to trudge around in an inflatable suit, with fakey jowly facial applications. And it just never works. As Billy loses weight Burke has fewer applications, but he just looks like an angry guy, not like he’s horribly wasting away. They try to up the tension and have him constantly eating, the camera panning over empty plates and chip bags. The imagery never connects. (And I could swear, in a couple scenes they double back to the make-up condition he was in a few scenes earlier; we get pulled into the consistency of the special effects when we should be looking through our fingers at the awful walking skeleton on the screen).

I don't like to complain about books being better than movies. But in the book, Billy's situation is incredibly uncomfortable to read. He loses his sanity along with his body, and starts to suspect his wife of cheating with his doctor. It's very difficult to physicalize jealousy and madness.

And then there's the gypsies. Too broadly characterized to be offensive (but they are!), they weigh the story down (here all week, folks), forcing everything to be about them instead of the horror of the human body. With the help of the mafia defendant (Joe Mantegna, slumming it hard) Billy tries to intimidate the gypsies into reversing the curse. Eventually they do: with a pie. The old gypsy man (his makeup ain’t great either, by the way) channels all the hate of the world (or something) into a strawberry pie. Billy has to convince someone to eat it, and then the curse will transfer to them. So Billy goes home and tricks his maybe-cheating wife into eating the pie. Thing is, Billy’s patient wife has been shaming him over his junk food consumption the whole movie, it’s pretty late for her to be all, yay pie. Anyway, she eats it, shrivels to death like one of those weird apple dolls, and Billy is healthy. But Billy’s daughter also had some pie, so accepting his fate, Billy gets the doctor/lover to eat some pie as well (Billy’s pie-convincing average is crazy strong) and he himself chows the leftovers, roll credits.

At least now I can cross one of the lesser King adaptations off my watch list.