Film Reviews

Never Been Funnier

I confess: I didn't want to see Never Been Thawed when it premièred here about a year ago. I went to the film's screening as a favor to a friend, whose best friend's daughter appears fleetingly in one scene, but I'm not a big fan of independent films -- especially when they're made by first-time filmmakers and feature mostly non-actors in their cast. Still, I fell quickly and noisily in love with this dead-on parody of a half-dozen different things, and have watched it several more times since.

The framework of this little masterpiece is an upcoming fan convention to be hosted by the apocryphal Mesa Frozen Entree Enthusiasts Club, and its organizers, a collection of young losers who obsessively collect frozen TV dinners and hold meetings to discuss them. ("Never Been Thawed" is the term these people use to describe frozen dinners that remain unopened and are therefore more valuable.)

The group's deeply loathsome founder, Shawn (Sean Anders, who's also the film's director), is a part-time dental hygienist and lead singer in a Christian punk-metal band with the morals of a shoe skate and an affinity for stirring the turd. He rides roughshod over several other losers, among them Vince (Mike Gordon), a self-made millionaire who leads corporate team-building seminars based on Viet Cong war camps, and Shelly (Shelly Frasier), a deeply nerdy virgin who works as an abstinence counselor at the William Jefferson Clinton Abstinence Centre. She has a thing for Shawn, whose bandmate and fellow NBT fan, Al (Allen Zwolle), is crushed out on Shelly. Al works at Klown Kutz, a Scottsdale hair salon at which all the stylists are dressed as circus clowns and are referred to as "smilists." Never Been Thawed is that kind of movie.

It's also the kind of movie that will be compared relentlessly to the mockumentaries of Christopher Guest (Best in Show, Waiting for Guffman), because it's set up as a film-within-a-film about people with a wacky hobby and because it's deeply irreverent about nearly everything it touches. But Thawed's people are even more archetypal than Guest's, and more awful, too. There's Scott (S. Joseph Isham), a femmy firefighter who's been cured of his homosexuality through an ex-gay ministry and who collects commemorative plates he's rescued from Phoenix fires. And Chris (John Morris), Shawn's creepy deaf brother, a middle-aged delinquent who regularly wets the bed and who places TTY calls to Shawn when he runs out of beer and cigarettes. And Milo (John Angelo), owner of the No Choice Cafe, an anti-abortion Christian coffee house he opened next to a Phoenix abortion clinic because "picketers get hungry." Milo is also the brains behind Christapalooza, a Christian rock concert at which Shawn's band, The Christers, is scheduled to perform its big hit "I Got to Pray" (which, before the members met Milo, became "Christian," and rewrote all their lyrics, was called "I Love to Fuck").

The beauty in this deeply derisive and wildly funny comedy is in its details: the plastic-fetus-topped coffee stirrers at the cafe, where booths are posted with small signs that read, "What Would Jesus Order?"; the graphics on the Limited Edition Gene Simmons TV dinner (flavor: Beef Tongue); or the poster in Shelly's Abstinence Hotline cubicle with the slogan, "Keep her on the phone and she won't get the bone." No one is laughing so hard at this movie as the people who made it.

And that's saying something, because this is a darn funny little movie. Anyone who's ever known -- or been! -- one of those folks who troll eBay in search of something weird to complete an arcane collection of American ephemera will love this sweetly acerbic, nicely acted local film. And anyone who's had enough of the post-PC etiquette that dogs us these days will revel in its snarky send-up of all things sacred.

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Robrt L. Pela has been a weekly contributor to Phoenix New Times since 1991, primarily as a cultural critic. His radio essays air on National Public Radio affiliate KJZZ's Morning Edition.
Contact: Robrt L. Pela