It was a crazy scene outside the Ryerson tonight when a truck pulled up, packed with pole dancers, Pilsner, and the stars of the movie "Fubar II." By the time they wrapped up a noisy rock and rap set and made their way up the red carpet, the theater was already filling up with rowdy fans who were there to witness history as, for the first time ever, a Canadian film opened the Midnight Madness section of the Toronto International Film Festival.
Programmer Colin Geddes took the stage to introduce the film and had to yell over the cheering fans who were riled up to an amazing degree, energized and vocal. He brought out the filmmakers behind the short film that he referred to as "the opening band" for the evening, and then brought out director Michael Dowse, who seemed sort of dazed and amazed by the energy in the room. He thanked his producers, introduced a few people in the audience, and then brought out, to an insane standing ovation, Terry and Deener.
I've never seen the original "Fubar," and it sounds like that was more a matter of what sort of distribution deal was signed for the film than any sort of issue of quality. To be honest, I'd never even heard of the film until I saw the announcement that the sequel, "Fubar II," was set to open this year's Midnight Madness programming. As it turns out, you don't need to know the first film at all to enjoy the second film. If anything, it makes me want to hunt down the first film now so I can see how it all began. But "Fubar II" is a self-contained comedy that stands on it own successfully, and it is also one of the most surprising things I've seen in a theater this year.
Terry (David Lawrence) and Deener (Paul Spence) are caught in a sort of perpetual adolescence, man-babies devoted almost wholly to the consumption of any substance that threatens to alter them, particularly beer. Deener is celebrating another cancer-free anniversary after losing one testicle to cancer in what I assume are the events of the first film. He's a father, but only technically, as he's more concerned with borrowing money than with seeing his own daughter when he shows up at his ex-wife's house. He seems like a decent guy from moment to moment, but he's got no impulse control at all and he's got no drive to change his life in any way.
Following a particularly crazy celebration involving their friend Tron (Andrew Sparacino), Terry and Deener decide that they're going to go north to the small town where Tron works on a pipeline so he can help them get jobs. They're going to turn things around. They're going to grow up.
How well do you think that plan goes?
What's amazing is that "Fubar II" starts as a sort of much-harder McKenzie Bros. comedy, but reality keeps poking through, and as a result, "Fubar II" picks up weight as it goes. There is real substance to the journey that both Terry and Deener are on, and the film packs some hefty emotional punch in several places. Terry falls for a girl named Trish (Terra Hazelton) who works as a server in the local titty bar, and at first, everything's played as a joke with Trish. Every pipeline worker's had a shot with her, and at first, it's just Terry's turn. But he genuinely cares for this woman, and even with his co-workers saying terrible things at every turn, Terry is unflappable. Their relationship, which teeters on the absurd at times, ends up becoming something real, and that's the way the movie works as a whole. You think it's ridiculous, that these characters are so broad that they're cartoons, but little by little, the film works on you, and there are several moments in the film's second half that I found quite moving.
It's interesting how dark the film gets at times, too. Both Tron and Deener end up in some pretty awful places, emotionally, and they make a suicide pact. It's a mark of just how carefully built the movie is that I figured the film could go either way. Almost every time I figured I had a handle on where the film was going, it would subvert expectations in genuinely smart ways. And the payoff to Deener's storyline when he finally finds some sort of purpose in his life is one of those great movie moments that I'll always remember. It's funny, it's dirty, and it's inspirational.
Michael Dowse has had a rough road as a filmmaker. The original "Fubar" obviously has fans, as most of them were at the Ryerson tonight screaming their heads off, but it never really made it out of Canada. His film "It's All Gone, Pete Tong" was dumped in the U.S., but it well worth seeking out. And the movie he made with Topher Grace, "Kids In America" has been pushed back so many times that I think it's older than my kids at this point, and still hasn't been released. I sincerely hope "Fubar II' is the beginning of a turnaround for him, and the script by Jay Baruchel and Evan Goldberg for his next film, "Goon," is damn good. He's got real chops as a filmmaker, and a huge heart, and we need more voices like his working.
The cast of the film couldn't be any more perfect. I thought both Lawrence and Spence did strong work as Terry and Dean, but it's Tron (Sparacino) who just steals the film in all of his appearances. His scene as Santa Claus in the movie is classic, and again... in a film this dark, it could have ended in a dozen different ways. Seeing a film that shakes you out of your comfort zone, especially one with this many solid laughs built in, is exhilarating, and I can't think of a better way to wrap up the first day of a festival.
I hope I get a chance to share this one with my American friends, and soon. It deserves it.
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