December 2, 2009

650 lb. Virgin

Mix equal parts circus sideshow, inspirational success story, medical drama and visuals of Grey's Anatomy, strong bromance, pursuit of sex with a hot young woman, and you've got David Smith and Chris Powell's story The 650 lb. Virgin. You've also got one great big fat advertisement for their company Reshape the Nation.

David Smith (above) is the morbidly obese young man desperately wanting to change. His long history of depression and friendlessness is triggered by childhood sexual abuse. David is finally at the end of his rope when doctors tell him he'll only live a few more years at the rate he's going. Wisely, he reaches out for hope through a personal trainer- instead of suicide or potentially dangerous gastric surgery.

Enter Chris Powell (above right), a personal trainer with compassion to boot and a heart to help David. As he undertakes the work of transforming him into someone healthy and happy, a very unexpected transformation does occur. David trains hard, eats right, and drops the pounds. The "after" visuals of a skin and bones David is shocking, and the resulting surgeries are there in graphic detail.

However dramatic David's part is, the story is also one of how Chris changes. He seems to grow up a bit as David slims down. A very strong friendship begins, growing into roommates then business partners. As David is transformed into the wanna-be hunk, he is overwhelmed and full of gratitude, but it is Chris who becomes smitten with his creation. Shades of Pretty Woman or a hundred other films. This show is tailor made for a generation of lonely adults who lack deep friendships and healthy marriages.

It's easy for those familiar with the Bible's Old Testament to think of the story of David and Jonathan. Like the men of old, the love and friendship between the two guys is strong and committed- and the women are secondary characters. However, for the camera, David and Chris' story even (intentionally?) flirts with the idea of potential sexual interest between the two men as David makes some comments about Chris' briefs when he drops his pants. And the camera is there to capture it all.

Unlike our Biblical heroes, the focus here is not on a spiritual pursuit to please God, instead it is on making sure David finally gets some sexual action- and gain viewers and potential clients for the company. Cynical? Maybe, but this is America in the new century. Shrewdly used, this idea and the pictures of David's transformation and Chris' shirtless poses make for product placement in the highest sense.

As in any good real life drama, David has setbacks. Despair and weight gain set in. David struggles to understand why he could be unhappy and unfulfilled when so much has changed. Chris keeps encouraging him to grow, and yes, David does eventually get the girl and the sex. All ends well. Or does it? What is next now that the sexual goal is met? In real life versus reality television, there is more to life than fulfilment of our desires.

The story of David Smith and Chris Powell is compelling and our lead characters very engaging. In a world of reality television, this ranks as one of the most intriguing stories I've watched. My wife and I were riveted to the screen. As much as this story is one big advertisement for their company, it is also a story of friendship and the power of someone who believes in someone else. In our world of distress and hopelessness, David and Chris' story is designed to inspire- and it does.

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