When I finished Madeleine Sims-Fewer and Dusty Mancinelli’s live action short, Chubby, I felt as if I couldn’t get over my shock and anger. This is not a documentary, but the emotions trigger feelings as if stripped from many victims’ memories. Chubby does not offer easy answers about sexual assault but it never claims to either. The emotional journey for the 10 year-old at the center is just beginning.
Jude (an astonishing Maya Harman, making her debut) just wants the respect of being around her older brother, Noah (Jesse LaVercombe). Sims-Fewer and Mancinelli perfectly capture that feeling when you just want to be considered cool or good enough by an older sibling. Jude can swear around Noah and even drink beer with him in the attic as they play juvenile games. Things take a dark turn, however, when Noah uses his age and influence over Jude.
Sims-Fewer and Mancinelli show us a shocking amount of Noah and Jude’s interactions only to showcase how easily it can go wrong. It flashes back to these moments but places them side-by-side with later scenes at Christmas when more of the family is together. We hear the youthful sounds of a recorder being played and see shots of a young foot dangling off the edge of a piano bench. The jovial chaos of the holidays is disrupted by the memories of what happened to Jude, and the family doesn’t know how to process what happened between them. The camerawork even makes it feel like a home movie we would normally revisit but there is a heavy tension slowly being released as the short progresses. What’s not said weighs on everyone.
The directors’ guidance of Harman is miraculous. I can’t even imagine how you introduce that heaviness to such a young performer but Harman feels in very safe hands. Jude is a typical kid with bursts of unfiltered energy, and when Jude is cornered in that impossible situation, the change in her voice will break your heart. Her innocence is quite literally taken before our eyes, and it’s so infuriating. The film makes you uncomfortable and it wants to make you angry. It should.
Chubby will make you angry, but then you will think of the millions of kids who are put in the same position or groomed by family members. It’s not just the act but the reactions from Jude’s family that needs to be called out. I don’t think I’ll be able to forget this for a long time.