Frozen-food enthusiasts will want to set aside some time to see Never Been Thawed, which returns to Madison this week after its sold-out screening at last spring's Wisconsin Film Festival. Directed by DeForest native Sean Anders, who also co-wrote the script and stars as the leader of a group devoted to collecting TV dinners, this blasphemously satirical comedy takes potshots at various subcultures, including Christian rockers who've converted because the market for faith-based hell-raisin' music has heated up. But the real target appears to be the lure of product packaging, in which each of us seeks a bright, shiny box to climb into. Structured like a documentary, Never Been Thawed can't help but remind us of This Is Spinal Tap, but it may be even farther off the wall, even more willing to leave reality behind.
'It's in a really weird place right now,' Anders said when I phoned him in Los Angeles to see how the movie's doing. 'From the beginning, those who guard the doors of film distribution have been saying no. They think that it's too broad and that it needs stars in it. But because audiences keep responding so enthusiastically, we keep putting it out there, distributing it ourselves. In April, we opened in Phoenix, which is where the movie was shot, and it ran for eight weeks. And Arizona's quite a red state, so that was encouraging. But now we're about to open in New York and L.A., so Madison is critical to us, believe it or not. If it does well there, the numbers will be fresh when journalists decide whether to write about it. We had a great festival screening, with people lined up around the block, so our fingers are crossed.'
The movie went on to win the festival's Jury Prize for Best Narrative Film, a nice little shot in the arm. 'That was great, in terms of morale,' Anders says. 'Plus, it allowed us to put 'Winner' on our press material, with those little leaves around it.'
Another boost came from Kevin Thomas, a film critic for the Los Angeles Times, who caught a screening at the Silver Lake Film Festival. Thomas described the movie as 'wickedly funny and deliciously subversive,' a blurb worth its weight in gold ' potentially, anyway. And Bill Muller of the Arizona Republic upped the ante by referring to it as 'this year's Napoleon Dynamite.' But so far, Never Been Thawed hasn't taken off like that beloved cult film. 'It still hasn't gotten a negative review,' Anders says, 'but reviews aren't everything.' Don't I know it.
However much life there is left in a movie that Anders describes as 'made for less than $20,000 with friends,' he figures he's already gotten his money's worth. 'I have an agent now,' he says, 'and I've signed with the Mosaic Media Group, a management company that represents people like Ben Stiller and Will Ferrell. It's been a great ride so far.' And it's about to get even better. Although Anders can't reveal the name of the outfit involved, his team has reached an agreement with a Hollywood company to produce its next feature. 'It's about an autistic sexual savant,' he says when I press him for details, 'a genius with the ladies.' Well, okay.
'It sounds worse than it is,' he adds, anticipating PC problems. But after all those Farrelly brothers movies, it's hard to imagine anybody getting too upset. Working title: Special Needs.