by Chris Parry
If there's one thing I know about the world of indie film, it's that whenever Evan Astrowsky tells me to watch a film, I should watch. In the last few years, Evan has produced both Cabin Fever and Sam & Joe, two films that had me laughing out loud and depressed enough to slash my wrists respectively, so when he emailed me and said, "Hey man, Never Been Thawed awaits," my first inclination was to book off 97 minutes of my life and await something special. Evan didn't actually produce this one, but he sure knows shit from clay.Sean Anders is Shawn, the President of the Mesa Frozen Entree Enthusiasts Club, a closeknit band of folks who take great pride in their collections of TV dinners. Shawn's living room is filled with freezers, to the point where he uses them for bedding, a coffee table and other assorted furniture, but all this is necessary to keep his collection in mint condition. But all is not well in the MFEEC as personality conflicts, jelaousy and Shawn's slovenly deaf brother are beginning to create tears at the seams of the group. And Shawn's decision to turn his punk band into a Christian rock group isn't helping.
"A lot of giggles, a heap of chortles, but big laughs? Well, some."
If box office scores were based on the number of times an audience giggles divided by the number of dollars spent making the film, Never Been Thawed would be knocking Fistful of Nails... uh, I mean Passion of the Christ, off the front pages of the trades. But while this mockumentary about collectors of frozen dinners is consistently entertaining, it does falls short of 'must see' status because of problems often seen in low budget comedies; it features several long periods between guffaws, runs a little longer than the concept can sustain, and ultimately never really enters "had to be made" territory. It's a fun time to be sure, but that's all.
The mockumentary is a tool that is hilarious when used to great effect, as is evidenced by the work of Christopher Guest, and it's generally a really inexpensive way of getting a film made. Shaky cameras, bad lighting and questionable sound quality are all things that can be gotten away with if your concept is that this is a cheap (and fake) documentary. Of course, not everyone can afford to go hire Eugene Levy, Katherine O'Hara and Parker Posey to bring in an audience, so productions like Never Been Thawed are generally up against it from the start, at least if we're to compare them against other films of the genre. Where this film falls is in the finer details, where a two-line actor might give an awful performance, or when a joke that starts out only a little funny is pushed right through the film. Thankfully, there's enough good in Never Been Thawed to offset those commonplace downfalls.
Scott (S. Joseph Isham) is a gay entree collector who has decided to 'give up' the gay lifestyle as part of his new Christianity, and in my opinion he's the high point of every scene he's in. It's the subtlety of S. Jospeh Isham's performance that makes him so watchable, where as Shelly (Shelly Frasier), one of the few females in the group who happens to have a huge crush on Shawn, is also funny, but more dependant on the material to deliver the laughs. Thankfully, this script had several rewrites applied to it over a long period of time, ensuring that when the production finally went to camera, it was ready for prime time.
While most productions of this type would go for the main concept (weirdo collectors) and wring every drop of blood out of it, these guys are smart enough to bring in subplots which, while distracting, help pad things out a little and give the characters added depth. When Shawn's hottie girlfriend puts up with his entree collecting but ultimately develops a problem with his tactics of using Christianity to kick his band along, you realize that political correctness isn't on the menu. When you see Shelly at her job as an abstinence counsellor asking others in her helpline office what a Rusty Trombone is while someone on the phone is receiving one, you begin to forget the frozen entrees altogether, and it's almost disappointing when the narrative comes back to the group in question.If this review sounds hot and cold, that's because the film has a whole lot of pros and cons to think about, if thinking about pros and cons is your business. To be honest, I've changed my mind on the rating four times just in the half hour I've been writing this, but ultimately, Never Been Thawed is pretty darn funny. To quantify it beyond that in terms of moviemaking expertise, or small imperfections that could work against the whole, is futile. It's funny. You'll laugh. Now someone should give these guys some money to make a movie that doesn't have to feature their friends and relatives in speaking roles, so they can make something that will completely blow our doors off.
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=9194&reviewer=1
originally posted: 04/02/04 10:31:05