Fubar Commentary

In the 1980s, the ultimate working class, beer-guzzling, cliché Canucks were brothers, Bob and Doug McKenzie, created by Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas for the “Great White North” sketch on SCTV. Although the GWN segment only appeared for three years, it sparked a cult following that continues to this day across all of North America. Well, move over Bob and Doug. The new, dumb, beer-guzzling Canadians on the block are two friends, Dean and Terry, played by Paul Spence and David Lawrence in Fubar: The Movie (2002).

Using a mockumentary style, writer-director Michael Dowse explores the daily lives of two metalheads who have been approached by Farrel (Gordon Skilling) a self-important filmmaker who wants to make a movie about them. In a slick reversal of roles, Dean and Terry gradually begin to control Farrel, incorporating him into their lives and refusing to let him simply observe. They do not agree to be filmed, they simply agree to let Farrel hang out with them. There’s a difference. Farrel doesn’t understand this at first; he is too busy feeling superior to Dean and Terry.

And feeling superior to Dean and Terry is not hard to do. They are immature, uneducated, unintelligent, slackers who do little more than swear, drink too much beer, play loud music, fight, and destroy things.  This is certainly what Farrel wants to record. He makes sure to catch them at their juvenile worst. However, it becomes increasingly clear to the audience that Terry and Dean are essentially harmless, more like the lost boys of Peter Pan than hoodlums at large. As time goes by, Farrel is seen more and more on camera, trying to shape the conversation and the action according to the film he wants to make, rather than to who Dean and Terry really are.

At one point, Farrel tries to sharpen the contrast between Terry and Dean and their friend, Troy, who has chosen to marry and live a “responsible” life. What he actually gets is footage showing how much the three men love one another and how much Troy misses their former carefree existence. When Farrel interviews  the boys’ parents, he gets much the same response: they are loved. Dean’s mother reads a poem he once wrote, not a very good poem, but a poem. And Farrel catches Dean in an oddly reflective moment playing the only song he ever wrote for acoustic guitar, not a very good song, but surprisingly lyrical. Terry admits to Farrel that life would pretty boring without Dean. Though almost completely inarticulate, the boys  clearly have depths that Farrel had not imagined.

The turning point in Dean and Terry’s happy-go-lucky existence is Farrel’s discovery that Dean has been diagnosed with testicular cancer. Dropping all pretence of objectivity, Farrel tells Dean’s ex-girl friend Trixie (Tracey Lawrence) who is also mother of Dean’s child, that he is refusing to get the surgery he needs to survive. Trixie drags Dean to the doctor and the surgery is scheduled, but Farrel is now involved in the life of his subject and Dean won’t let him forget it.

Deciding that they will have one last party before the surgery, Dean and Terry take Farrel on a camping trip, the kind that metalheads take. It involves beer, hotdogs, lawn chairs and gasoline. After starting the fire by dowsing it with gasoline, in true “hoser” tradition, Dean and Terry cook hotdogs on sticks, jump over the fire naked and bust up the lawn chairs. Farrel gets drunk rather quickly and tries to fight Dean and Terry, crying out, "You don't even know what I'm trying to do! You can't even appreciate it!" Much later, Dean and Terry collapse, paralytic, and surrounded by the parts for their tent. They wake up the next day lying face down in the gravel. Farrel is lying in a ditch. Disgusted with himself and trying to avoid a repetition the following evening, he offers to pay for a hotel for them all.

While they are in town that night, the boys meet what look like real metalheads, who spend their time drinking too much and punching each other up. At this point, the dialogue in Fubar, which clearly involves a good deal of improv, looks to be totally improvised. It is the most arresting moment in the movie: a reality check, that there really are people like Dean and Terry. And, oddly enough, these older, flabbier metalheads seem just as childlike as their make-believe, much younger, city cousins. They might punch each other and drink too much, but there are rules and the dream of endless freedom. The next day, Dean and Terry take control. They dare Farrel to jump into the mountain creek; they’ve been in and so have the entire camera crew. Dean is now holding the boom mike. Farrel, replies, “Whose movie is this, anyway?”

On their return to Calgary, Dean undergoes the operation and subsequent chemotherapy, which leaves him bald and in a wheelchair, but determined to fight the cancer and get well. In a way, the cancer has given him a reason to live and a focus that he has never had. But, this decision should not be misconstrued as growth. Dean and Terry are picaresque characters and these characters are not meant to grow; what they are meant to do is to have one episodic adventure after another. The whole point is that they never do change. In this way, they are endlessly re-usable, whether in book series, or in movie sequels. Indeed filmmaker, Michael Dowse brought Dean and Terry back to a great deal of applause at the Toronto International Film Festival in Fubar II (2010). This second iteration of Fubar’s “lost boys” received nominations in three categories for the Genies, a nomination from the Director’s Guild of Canada and another from the Vancouver Film Critics Circle.

Evelyn Ellerman