He's a sweet-natured but awkward grocery clerk who lives at home with his mother. He weighs more than 300 pounds. And when he gets depressed, he stuffs his face with half the contents of his mom's refrigerator.
"The character is obese. I'm an overweight guy. And I felt like I could do it," says the film's screenwriter, Hubbel Palmer, explaining how he overcame resistance by the producers of "American Fork" to cast himself, an unknown non-actor, as Tracy. "Without getting too personal, I can relate to using food to console myself."
The movie, which premieres today1/20 at the Slamdance Film Festival in Park City, is a bittersweet comedy about the twentysomething Tracy's earnest but naive attempts to make something of his modest life. The low-budget film co-stars Kathleen Quinlan as Tracy's bitter mom, Mary Lynn Rajskub (TV's "24") as his lovelorn sister and William Baldwin as a vain, D-list actor who teaches Tracy in a community acting class.
"American Fork" is a Utah product in almost every sense. Hubbel grew up in West Valley City and based his script partly on his high school experiences working at a supermarket. The movie was filmed last July in Lehi, Murray and Salt Lake City (but, ironically, never in American Fork). And Hubbel, director Chris Bowman and producer Jeremy Coon all attended film school at Brigham Young University.
Hubbel finished the script in 2004 and sent it, unsolicited, to Bowman, that same year.
"I wasn't expecting much," admits Bowman, who was swamped with underwhelming scripts from former BYU classmates. "But I read it to my wife in bed, and I found myself laughing out loud."
Bowman changed Palmer's original title to "American Fork," which, for a movie about a heavy eater, works on several metaphorical levels. It then took almost two years to recruit investors, a process that got a boost when Coon, who produced "Napoleon Dynamite," came aboard. Although a rough cut of the film was rejected by Sundance, Bowman and Hubbel are excited to bring it to Park City this week.
So . . . a quirky comedy about a young misfit with a funny name who lives a Western town, directed by a BYU grad? Bowman and Hubbel understand that comparisons to "Napoleon Dynamite" are inevitable. But they see "American Fork" as a darker, different movie.
" 'Napoleon Dynamite' opened the door for us, for sure," Bowman says. "But ["American Fork"] is not going to have that crossover appeal. We're making a film about a guy with a binge-eating disorder. We just hope that ultimately the film connects with people."