Issue 62 (2018)

Aleksei Nuzhnyi: I’m Losing Weight (Ia khudeiu, 2018)

reviewed by Greg Dolgopolov © 2018

ya khudeyuAnia (Aleksandra Bortich) loves her job as a pastry chef. She loves to eat well. Ania loves her boyfriend. He is a sportsman and a swim coach. He loves the look of his body. But he can’t hide his disappointment with Ania’s. She has gained weight and is not prepared to exercise. She can’t fit into any of her dresses. He doesn’t need this sort of girlfriend. He breaks up with her at his best friend’s wedding, preferring a sportier acquaintance. Ania goes on a spiral of self-loathing and depression. It is a good thing that she has friends. Natasha (Irina Gorbacheva) takes her in, morally supports her and lets her sleep on the balcony of her studio apartment, surrounded by the panoramic vistas of Nizhnyi Novgorod. Eventually she gathers the courage to attend an Over-eaters Anonymous meeting. She doesn’t commit to their program but she does meet Kolia (Evgenii Kulik), a uniquely positive young man who becomes her sponsor and helps her exercise and fight her food cravings. Kolia falls in love with Ania but she is on a mission. Ania is determined to get her boyfriend back and so she sets off on a weight loss adventure where she encounters all manner of strange obstacles and unexpected discoveries. 

ya khudeyuThis is a makeover romantic comedy about the difficulties of losing weight and staying true to oneself, a mix of Judd Apatow, Amy Schumer and the Odnoklassnitsy series. Russian films rarely feature plus-size actors in serious roles and larger women especially are absent from cinema screens. I’m Losing Weight is the first Russian film that explicitly engages with non-standard body sizes, body shaming, obesity and a physical makeover through weight loss. The funniest moments feature Ania struggling with gym equipment, fighting her fridge at midnight food cravings and losing it at her thin friends complaining about their love handles. But contrary to expectations of a light romantic comedy, the film does not shy away from more complex social and psychological issues. 

According to the World Health Organization more than 60 percent of Russia’s population is overweight. “In five years (2011–2016) the obesity indicator has grown by 45.5%.” Over the past twenty years the number of overweight people increased dramatically. When it comes to obesity Russia is quickly catching up to the West. But an awareness of the negative impacts of body shaming lag far behind. It is hard to be fat in Russia as most popular images feature the slim and beautiful and public discourse condemns the overweight. While the number of outdoor gyms has grown and there is a greater consciousness of healthy eating, there is a distinct lack of empathy for people struggling with their weight. “[Society thinks] the worst thing that can happen to a woman in Russia is not being deprived of education, or marrying an alcoholic, or even the danger of violence,” says Anna Svolochova, head of Body Positive, the biggest online self-acceptance online community in Russia. “The worst is gaining weight and becoming a second-rate object” (cited in Rehle 2017). Surprisingly in the Cosmopolitan rating of the ten best Russian films about women (Anon. 2018a) not one examines weight gain and only the recent Zoology (Zoologiia, 2016) by Ivan Tverdovskii explores the shame and trauma of a fantastical metamorphosis.  

ya khudeyuThe number of TV shows, online programs and social media posts about weight loss are testament to this growing anxiety, especially among women. A reality show about weight loss, also titled  I’m Losing Weight, was released on NTV in September 2013 and Weighty People (Vzveshennie liudi), a Russian variant of the Biggest Loser, started in April 2015 on STS. Both shows feature in-depth character close ups of overweight people and their struggle to lose weight through a combination of diets, exercise and medical procedures. All the television characters and contestants are united in their passionate desire to change their bodies and the host’s moralizing about their weight gain and their avowal to help them. Unlike the Russian Biggest Loser, I’m Losing Weight is not a competition-orientated show, but focuses on only one overweight heroine per 50-minute episode as she struggles with a series of personal obstacles. Each episode is presented in a serious interventionist documentary style that explore the relationship of the subject with their family, friends and health professionals as mediated by an omniscient, judgmental voiceover and a demanding, interfering host. Aside from the name, there are clear resonances between this program and the 2018 cinematic romantic comedy as both focus on the complex psychological networks that are part of the weight loss process. Through her weight loss journey Ania realizes that in order to change her body she must also change her mindset and address the underlying issues of her dependence on male approval. Part of that involves dealing with past trauma and the feeling of being abandoned by men, so she sets of on an adventure to find her father and discover what went wrong. She learns to forgive her mother, to endorse her burgeoning relationship with the combine harvest driver, and to give up on her narcissism. Anya discovers that once she loses weight and achieves her goal of getting back her former boyfriend that she is no longer drawn to him. She transforms herself by stopping feeling sorry for herself and starting to lend her weight to her family and friends and enacting positive changes in their lives. Her weight-loss makeover is far from superficial and it is these dramatic moments of the film where Anya reconnects with a deeper and more giving sense of self that are reminiscent of El’dar Riazanov’s style of humor that is funny and a bit sad at the same time.  Drawing on the psychological investigations from the reality TV Show, I’m Losing Weight presents the complexity of personal transformation.

ya khudeyuWhat is remarkable about I’m Losing Weight is that it is entirely unremarkable and yet it is a novelty for Russian cinema. A romantic comedy about weight-loss it is a makeover film with a light twist—the chubby girl who is dumped by the buff boyfriend drops her weight after a grueling few months but realizes that excess weight is not everything and that changing her narcissism is far more important. It is not unlike a Judd Apatow social comedy such as The 40 Year Old Virgin (2005) or even Kicking and Screaming (2004) where the protagonist is a social victim but is able to change for the better by taking on a history of family dysfunction head-on. Populist Russian film commentator Anton Dolin defended the film from negative criticism by claiming that this is not a bad film, “it is something more. It is a normal film. The word ‘normal’ in Russia possesses an incredible wealth of possible connotations (see Vladimir Sorokin’s novel Norma). Usually, when defining a film as “normal”, we mean that it is acceptable, adequate – because there are no norms in Russia” (Dolin 2018).

I’m Losing Weight is a normal, market-orientated romantic comedy that creates a clever cross-media tie between a popular television discursive regime and a family melodrama with a genuine empowering message. It would be easy to condemn the film as a Hollywood knock-off, but the authenticity of Bortich is disarming, as is her relationship with her friends and family who stick with her during her darkest times. I’m Losing Weight has performed well at the box office gathering $11.8 million USD and coming in as the 5th most successful Russian comedy at the box office with a huge opening weekend of $5.8 million making it the most successful Russian film opening of 2018—so far. This is the debut feature for director Aleksei Nuzhnyi who is best known for his work on the TNT television series Olga (2016–) and as a contributing screenwriter for such populist or low-brow comedies as Sarik Andreasian’s LOpuKhI (2009) and Mums (Mamy, 2012). The film features authentic, heartfelt performances by Bortich, Kulik and Gorbacheva and a quirky cameo by Shnurov as Ania’s long-lost father with his best moment dancing ‘Freestylin’ in his early 90s tracksuit as a symbol of bringing the broken family connections back together again. Unlike other fat-comedies such as Norbit, Fat Albert, The Nutty Professor, Bridget Jones Diary and Heavyweights, I’m Losing Weight is a redemptive and respectful film about the power of friendship and standing up to the bullies who seek to set the body shape agenda.

Greg Dolgopolov
University of New South Wales

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Works Cited

Anon. 2018a. “10 russkikh fil’mov pro zhenshin, kotorye ne stydno smotret’.” Cosmopolitan 12 August.

Anon. 2018b. “Kassa Rossii: Komediia ‘Ia khudeiu’ na starte pobila rekord. ” FilmPro 8 March.

Dolin, Anton. 2018. “Ia khudeiu s Aleksandroi Bortich: Novye normal’nye”, Meduza 14 March.

Rehle, Michaela. 2017. “Why Does Russia Loathe Its ‘Old, Fat and Ugly’?” The Moscow Times 12 May.

I’m losing weight, Russia, 2018
Color, 102 mins
Director: Aleksei Nuzhnyi 
Screenplay: Nikolai Kulikov, Aleksei Nuzhnyi, Konstantin Mayer
Producers: Sergei Kornikhin, Nikolai Kulikov, Aleksei Nuzhnyii
DoP: Kirill Klepalov
Composer: Dmitrii Lanskoi, Dmitrii Emel’ianov
Production Design: Margarita Ablaeva
Editor: Avet Oganesyan
Cast: Aleksandra Bortich, Irina Gorbacheva, Sergei Shnurov, Evgenii Kulik, Roman Kurtsyn, Aleksandr Ptashenchuk, Elena Valiushkina, Valeriia Dergileva, Andrei Trushin

Aleksei Nuzhnyi: I’m Losing Weight (Ia khudeiu, 2018)

reviewed by Greg Dolgopolov © 2018

Updated: 2018