Shooting like a rocket out of that red-hot mecca of filmmaking, Tempe, Ariz., comes writer/director Sean Anders' subculture-skewering mockumentary Never Been Thawed. Not content to lampoon average everyday dorks, nbt--as the film is more casually known--invents its own oddball obsession. The title refers to the pristine condition favored by the socially retarded members of a Mesa, Ariz., frozen TV dinner collecting club--or “frozen entree enthusiasts” as they prefer to be called. (And no, potpies are not considered frozen entrees, so don't ask again!)
Chief among this cadre of alpha dorks is Shawn (Anders, adding another job to his credits), a rabid connoisseur of Swanson's, Banquet, et al. So caught up in the TV dinner craze is Shawn that he's filled his one-bedroom home with seven “tricked out” freezers full of rare collectibles. As a result, Shawn is so strapped for cash to spend on his obsession that he's talked his crummy garage band into switching from foul-mouthed punk rock to Christian rock in the vain hope that it's more lucrative.
Never Been Thawed presents warped portraits of all the members of the Mesa Frozen Entree Enthusiasts' Club. The key members, however, are Shelly (Shelly Frasier), a virginal Christian rock groupie who works at the William Jefferson Clinton Abstinence Center as an anti-sex phone advisor (“Keep her on the phone and she won't get the bone” is their motto), and Shawn's best friend since childhood Al (Allen Zwole). Shelly's enthusiasm for the frozen food world seems to derive solely from the fact that she's got a major crush on bad boy Shawn. Al, meanwhile, is questioning his pathetic life as a “smilist” at the Clown Cuts hair salon. He's wondering if his duty as bassist and chief songwriter for Shawn's sellout band, The Christers, is really worth it. (Was changing the lyrics of “I Wanna Fuck” to “I Gotta Pray” really such a good idea?) And to top it all off, he's busy pining away for his resolutely platonic pal Shelly, who only has eyes for Shawn.
Never Been Thawed plays out like a demented combination of Napoleon Dynamite and This is Spinal Tap--a hilarious mixture of faux documentary and all things dorktacular. The no-budget effort covers up most of its ragged seams (bargain basement cinematography, amateur actors) by simply letting the jokes fly fast and furious. A few come across as a bit obvious, and not all of them are delivered with the conviction of seasoned thespians. Still, the cumulative result is outrageously funny.
To their credit, Anders and his cohorts aren't afraid to step on a few toes, and there are moments in the film guaranteed to offend more charitable minds. Deaf people, homosexuals, nerds, motivational speakers: all are in for a hearty ribbing. Christians, in particular, get a major wedgie in this film. Think Saved, only meaner.
Anders, a graphic designer by trade, crowds the background with creative little props that reward attentive viewers. Humorous signs and ridiculous magazines vie for their own share of the comedy pie. Sad sack Al, for example, peruses a copy of “Apathy Monthly.” (Check out the www.neverbeenthawed.com website for more funny mock-ups.)
You could say that Never Been Thawed is a savvy send-up of how modern-day obsessions serve to distract us from having to grow up and deal with the real world. Everybody in Never Been Thawed is wrapped up in a dozen different obsessions, be it collecting or music or abstinence or religion or money. Giving Never Been Thawed too much credit as a social commentary, however, only distracts from its main mission: rude, nonstop humor. The whole thing is played for laughs, and it more than delivers in that department. It's hard to tell if the “too good to be fake” hobby of frozen food entree collecting will ever really take off, but it's easy to label this earnest sub-indie the heir apparent to Kevin Smith's Clerks.