nbt – never been thawed : a movie review

(cross-posted from Modern Evil)

If you don’t already know what nbt is about, go to neverbeenthawed.com and watch the trailer, maybe look around the extensive site, and then come back here to read what I have to say about it.

Now, assuming you’ve watched the trailer, you probably already have a good idea about whether or not you’ll like this film, and the basic elements that run through the experience. My review probably won’t sway you one way or the other – you either like offbeat humor, faux documentary style, and can handle (or better yet, appreciate) the humor of the skewed and hypocritical “Christian” characters, or you can’t. If this movie were rated by the MPAA, it would get an R rating for “language” and “suggestive dialogue” alone – so if you’re sensitive to obscenities, you, too, should stay away.

For the rest of you, my review:

“Does it sound ridiculous? It should.”

nbt – never been thawed – is shot in a faux documentary style; a documentary about a group of people who collect frozen TV dinners. Or “Frozen Entree Enthusiasts” as they prefer to be called. The “documentary” covers a brief, intense period for the Mesa Frozen Food Enthusiasts Club which comes to a peak with a Frozen Food Enthusiasts Convention. Does it sound ridiculous? It should. But by the time the movie actually arrives at the convention, Frozen Entree Enthusiasm has been put into perspective against the lives of the members of the club and seems quite reasonable by comparison.

You see, each of the members of the club we get to know during the course of the film has a day job or other hobbies that make collecting frozen dinners seem reasonable. The ‘leader’ and most dedicated to collecting frozen entrees is Shawn, the frontman for a hardcore punk band which changed its lyrics – and little else – to become a “Christian” band, The Christers, because he thought he could make more money by doing so. Some of the funniest moments in the movie, however, come from his day job – he works part time as a dental hygenist, and the way he does his job is just … funnier than whatever it is he was saying during those scenes. His band is managed by Milo, a man who founded the “No Choice Cafe” chain of restaurants, which are all located next to abortion clinics, so the patrons can protest on full stomachs – and so he could cash in on the huge crowds that always seemed to gather around the clinics. One of his regular patrons, Shelly, became a frozen entree enthusiast after seeing Shawn’s band perform. She works as a counselor at an abstinence center, where she takes calls all day on an “intercourse prevention hotline.” Seriously.

“The movie is pretty continuously laugh-out-loud funny.”

And it goes on and on, with quirkier and quirkier characters, until – when you know them all and are just watching them go through the everyday struggles of their lives – it’s their other features that seem to stand out, and frozen entree collecting seems pretty normal. It is in taking this central theme and transforming it under the surface into something almost acceptable, almost reasonable, that nbt most strongly succeeds conceptually. Of course, the fact that the movie is pretty continuously laugh-out-loud funny is pretty nice, too.

There are several levels of humor working in the film, ranging from low-level urine and testicle-related joked to the post-modern meta-humor of the very concept of the “mockumentary”, with plenty in between, much of it in the lives of the characters, as mentioned above. Something I appreciated about the humor was that rather than making fun of Christianity itself, the characters and situations represented a parody of the people who claim to be Christian for personal financial gain rather than any level of personal spirituality, belief, or faith – it was clear (to me) that Milo and The Christers were not meant to be seen as “real” Christians, just as people trying to make money from the market that real Christians represent. Some Christians will probably be offended or upset by the way that the attendees of The Christers’ concerts actually appreciate the non-Christian behaviour of the band, and some will be upset by a lot more than that in this movie, but I think the way the subject matter is handled is well-aimed and clearly not an attack on Christianity.

The cinematography did not take my notice, which says a lot – many amateur and first-time film makers make mistakes in lighting and shooting that detract from their films in a serious way, but nbt did not noticeably suffer from inexperience. In fact, there were several shots where I really noticed and appreciated the lighting, framing, or visual characterization of the mood of the scene. There is one scene where it is difficult to determine whether a too-bright spotlight shining on a white door in the background is intentional and symbolic or a lighting miscalculation, but overall the work is good, especially considering that it appears to have been shot entirely on video.

“I highly recommend this movie.”

The cast of first-time actors is effective and compelling. The production design is well thought out and pervasive. The music is appropriate, clever, and funny. The special effects are generally well-done, and would probably go unnoticed by most; they are effectively integrated. The overall sound quality is good and far superior to some other locally produced independent films I’ve seen, though still noticably “noisy” in some places.

And did I mention that the frozen dinners have never been thawed?

(Okay, that’s not true. I understand that due to the heat constraints of filming in GMPhoenix in the summer, some shots of frozen entrees were merely of empty boxes because the dinners kept melting.)

Still, I highly recommend this movie. Oh, and if you go this weekend (4/15/05 and 4/16/05) to the 7PM or 9PM showings, you can meet the people who made the film! Check out their website for more details.

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