Trailer Park Boys: Countdown to Liquor Day (2009, Matt Clattenburg)
Trailer Park Boys: Countdown to Liquor Day opens with alcoholic ex-cop turned trailer park supervisor Jim Lahey (John Dunsworth) basking in a tropical sun beach, running, drinking, perched on a branch, and finally lamenting falling in love with the ‘wrong man,’ then it cuts back ‘one week earlier’ to recount how our erstwhile drunken minor villain has got to this point. Our introduction to partners in crime Ricky (Rob Wells) and Julian (John Rob Tremblay) picks up where they left off in the first film (Trailer Park Boys: The Moive, Mike Clattenburg, 2006), in prison. It opens with a great scene, a study in contrast crosscutting between the release interviews of Julian and Ricky. While the straightfaced Julian tells them what they want to hear –that he plans to go straight and open his own car body shop, “Success Auto Body”– Ricky tells them the truth, that he can’t do anything except grow weed. Somehow they both get released, and no sooner are they beyond the prison gates and they steal a Department of Corrections vehicle in glaring daylight in plain view of indifferent prison guards. They immediately set out to rob a liquor store, Julian wearing a welder’s mask and Ricky a box! Ricky claims, “It’s not a robbery, it’s for charity!” Meanwhile their good friend Bubbles (Mike Smith) arrives at the trailer park to discover it has gone to pot. To make matters worse, his beloved cats (all 27 of them) have gone missing, and the cat door which ensured access to the food and water he carefully planned to survive before he returned, nailed shut. This angers Bubbles, whose love of cats knows no bounds (A sign hangs in his shed that reads, “Cats are like little humans.”)
The former residents are in the process of moving over into Lahey’s new, spanking Luxury Estate Trailer Park development. Bubbles visits Lahey and Randy (Patrick Roach) in their new digs and finds Lahey giving Randy a haircut. Bubbles gets surly and angry when he finds out they were behind his cats being placed in a shelter. In the ensuing tussle Lahey gets his razor stuck on the side of Bubbles’ head, and has a strip of hair accidently shaved as a result of Lahey having to turn it back on to remove it. This sets up a planned retaliation –the sort of tit for tat that would have made Laurel and Hardy proud– by Ricky after he finds out what happened to Bubbles’ hair. Randy steam rolls into their trailer and takes a shaver to all of Randy’s hair –Randy makes matters worse by drawing hair on his head with a permanent marker– which leaves him looking even more ridiculous than usual for the rest of the film (visual humor and sight gags are the heart and blood of the Trailer Park comedy aesthetic, with oddly shaped bodies, drunken behaviour, outlandish dress styles, clothes, Bubbles’ coke bottle glasses, pratfalls and physical performances at the heart of every show and film). At the shelter Bubbles strikes a relationship/friendship with a sympathetic worker, Jennie –who tells him that if he comes to the shelter after hours she will let him visit his 27 cats. Bubbles needs to come up with $100.00 per cat to get them released, which is more than he can afford. In another sign of true Canadiana, she suggests they smoke a joint and the scene is played out as a feel good moment without any moral attitude on the part of the filmmakers.
As it turns out, because of a mistake Randy made, Lahey needs to run through Julian’s property to install the final sewer pipes necessary for his new development. Lahey, desparate to con Julian, keeps this fact secret and offers to buy Julian’s property ($14,000 plus $700.00 in Canadian Tire money, a joke only Canadians will get), and sweetens the offer by throwing in a new trailer and reconstructed auto shop in the new trailer park development. Julian realizes the deal is too good to be true, but goes along with it. This sets up the usual shenanigans that develop whenever Julian attempts to put in motion his “big ideas,” which are always contrasted by Ricky’s drug-related plots (and desire to pass his grade 12), Lahey’s drunken idealism, and Bubbles’ more pragmatic needs.
For those readers not familiar with the TV show, The Trailer Park Boys is structured as a fake documentary, with the premise being that the Boys have given their tacit approval to a small documentary crew to film their every move. The boys tend to business as usual, but often step out of their routine to interact with the documentary team (usually with a plea to stop what they perceive to be their interference with a criminal act). By now the use of the mockumentary format is common, but when it was first used by director Mike Clattenburg in 2001 it was fresh and vital. One of the main reasons why Clattenburg persists with the mockumentary style continues to be because it enables characters to step out of the narrative and address the camera with their true feelings. There is very little humour in the television show or films that stem from the mockumentary style, since the humour in Trailer Park Boys grows directly from the characterizations, which bears comparison to the great Laurel and Hardy.
Designed first by director/Supervisor Leo McCarey, the comedy of destruction, or ‘reciprocal destruction’ was an important component of the Laurel and Hardy comic style. Inevitably, the boys would get into a tit for tat with either themselves or a third party (James Finlayson most famously in The Big Business, 1929, or neighboring cars in a traffic jam in Two Tars, 1928). By the end, the level of destruction was far in excess of the initial insult, slander, or irritant which got the ball rolling. Destruction is also a key comic foil in The Trailer Park Boys, both in the television show and the two feature films (with a third to be released in April 2014, Trailer Park Boys: Don’t Legalize It, Mike Clattenburg). In Trailer Park Boys: Countdown to Liquor Day, for example, there is the hilarious running gag of Lahey’s front porch door being continually ripped off its hinges, torn down, or walked through, first by an angry Bubbles after the shaving incident, then Ricky, after his retaliation, and then by a drunk, frustrated Lahey. Ricky’s business plan of building and selling individualized ‘dope bins’ out of large green plastic garbage bins is literally shattered when a drunken Lahey drives his car through the recently built prototypes, partly as a retaliation for Randy’s head shave. A drunken Lahey enacts destruction on a grand scale when he takes a construction tractor to town on Julian’s revamped trailer park home and recently constructed auto body shop.
But regardless of how much property or bodily destruction is commited, in Laurel and Hardy (like with all good Christians), forgiveness is always in the air with the ‘Boys.’ Such is also the case with The Trailer Park Boys, with Julian, Ricky and Bubbles always forgiving each other for any damage, loss, or slight of character one may have imposed on the other. The same goes between the Boys and Lahey and Randy, or between Lahey and Randy. For example, after Ricky shaves Randy’s head as retaliation for their accidental shaving of Bubbles, we have the inevitable moment where common sense prevails and a truce is orchestrated by Julian and Lahey, and Ricky tells Randy he is sorry.
As alluded to earlier, in terms of comic style, The Trailer Park Boys relies heavily on physical comedy to push the boundaries of comic characterisation. For example, Bubbles’ coke bottle thick glasses and stiff-body movements; Julian’s muscle-body postures and the way he carries a glas of rum and coke in his hand at all times; Ricky’s 1950s style pompadoo hair style (along with his mangling of the English language); the way Randy is always shirtless with his huge gut sticking out proudly; and his ‘man whore’ attire of red dress, wig and high heel shoes; Lahey’s constant state of inebriated stupor, which leads to countless pratfalls and material destructions; and the way Lahey waltzes about in public in his underwears and open housecoat. Along with this reliance on the physical, is the important contribution of comic props.
Julian proudly opens his Success Auto Body shop, and hires white rapper J-Roc’s friend and DJ, Dog.Tyrone ‘T’ (Tyrone Parsons), much to J-Roc’s dissent. Meanwhile Ricky visits his dad, now living in a ship, who tries to instill self-confidence in his son by convincing him to stop living off of Julian’s coattails. A valiant gesture but one with serious repercussions! He uses a funny analogy with jumper cables, clipping the negative cable on his heart and the positive, he claims, is always on Julian’s heart, rather than where it should be, on his own heart! This bit of pop psychology impresses Ricky, who decides to enact his plan of stealing large bins and converting them into personal dope gardens (dope bins), which he’ll sell door to door (like Laurel and Hardy selling Christmas trees door to door in Big Business). The plan starts off well, it seems to be working, but then a drunk Lahey smashes them to pieces with his car.
Although the film may feel larger than the television show, the real heart of the show remains: that true friendship can not be bought and sold and comes above all else, including money and material goods. So Julian burns his precious Dodge Charger to raise insurance money to get Bubbles’ cats out of the shelter. When all else fails, Bubbles forces everyone to help him raid the SPCA for his cats. As always, the plan goes to pot, and Dog is left locked inside the animal pound (SPCA) with the police on the way. One of the officers on the call mutters under his breath, “Who breaks into the SPCA?” Dog’s incarceration shatters J-Roc, but he is repentant when he finds out it was caused by Bubbles, who he has an affection for (and who doesn’t?).
In this film the rapper character, J-Roc (played superbly by Jonathan Torrens) seems a tad more aggressive, angrier than in the TV series. In comparison to the show, also noticeable is that the women of the trailer park are inconsequential, symbolically replaced by a scene where ‘man whores’ take to the street. When Randy has no where to go after leaving Lahey, he tries his hand at prostitution and goes down to the red light district –under a bridge, next to the ‘licensed’ Dirty Burger trailer diner, run by the only character who can challenge Randy for gut size. Randy is ludicrous in a red dress and wig, and gets a john, only to soon return, angrily shouting at him, “Who comes here with only $15!”
The film also develops on a real narrative irony. Whenever the ‘boys’ try to go legitimate, it alienates them from each other. For example, Julian’s auto shop leads to him hiring Dog, which alienates him from J-Roc, the rapper (Dog is his DJ). When Bubbles takes on the job as supervisor assistant with Lahey, it alienates him from Julian and Ricky. If Ricky were ever to pass his grade 12 test, he may get a normal job. Going straight always seems to place a strain on their friendships, hence as viewers we are placed in the awkward position of hoping they don’t succeed in their life of non-crime, because failure (like Ricky failing his grade 12 test again and again) is reassuring, and will bring them back together, since they are their only form of support (as Bubbles tells Jenny, he loves Julian and Ricky because they are like his only family). For example, Ricky feels in his heart that passing grade 12 will open doors to a life of legitimacy, allowing him to raise his family the ‘normal’ way. Ricky’s Dad encourages him by telling him that he will be by far the smartest person he knows if he passes his Grade 12). His friends encourage him and want the best for him, but if Ricky were to ever pass his Grade 12 it would means less time spent with Julian and Bubbles. This line of reasoning is exactly what happens in the film. Ricky only joins Julian’s armed robbery plan after learning that he failed the Grade 12 test once again.
Reassured by failure, Ricky joins Julian, Bubbles and Randy in the attempted fake armed robbery of a bank (Ricky has used his auto shop to dress up a stolen prison vehicle to look like the security truck that picks up the bank’s money every day at 5pm). He also rigs fake security uniforms for them, which look convincing from far, but would fall apart on close scrutiny. On the way to the job Bubbles gets them to stop at the shelter, and he asks Jennie to look after his cats if something goes wrong with him. She agrees, but throws Bubbles a curve by asking him out for a date! Even if the likely union of Bubbles with a woman seems unbelievable, viewers can only feel happy for him. It couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy. The plan seems to be working until Lahey shows up at the bank, in his underwears, piss drunk, and causing havoc. The credibility of the scene is hurt here, with people and the bank employees seemingly accepting the fact that the security people are interacting with this crazed interlocutor. Lahey sends the plan a real curveball when he goes to the roof and threatens to jump if Julian doesn’t profess his love for him. The friendship-above-all theme comes through again when Julian risks all by going up to the roof to save Lahey, rather than driving off with the loot. The delay means that the real armed security guards arrive and open fire on our boys. A car chase ensues, also quite unbelievable, but the incredulity is rescued when Clattenberg defuses the chase with a brash visual pun, by having Lahey and Ricky engage in a full speed pissing war (Clutterberg ‘taking the piss’ out of the high octane Hollywood chase scene). The film turns full circle with our boys back in prison, but luck is on their side when one of the arresting officers happens to be a guy who was working undercover at the red light district. He also happens to be drunk on the job, which gives them a legal loophole that will see them released in two weeks. Meanwhile, Jennie has come up with a program to help solve the overcrowded stray cat problem and help prison morale by bringing in cats from the shelter into the prison as company for the inmates. The film ends with the scene cutting back to Lahey in Cuba, piss drunk, sunburned, and out of sorts….a fish out of water. As the credits start we retunr back at home where, as if a miracle (or a Scorsesian fantasy ending) J-Roc has become a big success. His latest record is selling well, he is playing to a packed audience, and it is all dedicated to Tyrone, still in prison (His breakthrough album is called “Get My DJ Outta Jail!”). The screen is split in two during the final credits roll, the left featuring J-Roc’s concert, the right the credits. Oddly enough, everyone we see seated in the front of the audience is middle-age and white. An all-white rap audience, certainly a conscious choice on Clattenberg’s part to infuse another layer of irony or give credence to the fantasy nature of J-Roc’s turn for the better. Can one of the Trailer Park people really achieve fame and fortune?
Characters in Trailer Park Boys are so stuck in a rut of mind that they have to articulate the need to think. Ricky expresses unusual pain in his head after his visit with his dad. Bubbles simply tells him that the pain he is feeling is the result of using sections of his head that have never been used before (‘thinking!’). And Lahey falls off the wagon and tells Randy, who leaves him for that reason, that “He needs liquor to think.”
I’ll conclude with a brief discussion of what makes Trailer Park Boys: Countdown to Liquor Day such a worthwhile excursion in Canadiana. No one south of the border will ever mistake this for an American film, or the characters as being American, like they might with (fellow Canadian comedians turned American mega-stars) Dan Ackroyd, John Candy, Jim Carrey, Phil Hartman, Mike Myers, or Leslie Nielsen. In Margeret Atwood’s classic literary analysis of Canadian fiction, Survival, she argued that the theme of survival (whether linguistic, cultural, or plain physical against the harsh climate) was at the core of our National identity (even if we didn’t known it). The art of survival is what the characters in Trailer Park are all about, but being Canadian anti-heroes, success is measured by a different yardstick. As I stated earlier, for Julian, Ricky and Bubbles, friendship comes before monetary or material gain. Merely surviving and having the opportunity to attempt failure once again spells success. Ricky may have failed his grade 12 again, but it grants him the opportunity to join his friends Julian and Bubbles in their ill-fated bank robbery attempt. Canadians are every bit as healthy and attractive looking as other nationalities, but you would not think so by looking at the men and women who pass for heroes and heroines in many Canadian television shows and films. As Ryan Diduck states in his Offscreen essay “From Back Bacon to Chicken Fingers: Re-contextualizing the ‘Hoser’ Archetype” Julian, Ricky and Bubbles must be seen within a “long line of hosers, boozers and losers,” epitomized by Pete and Joey from Going Down the Road, Rick Dylan in Paperback Hero and Bob and Doug McKenzie from SCTV. Heroes are usually accorded a particular body type in American film and television: slim, tall, lithe, muscular, or athletic. You’ll be hard pressed to find a film with as many unattractive male bodies as in Trailer Park Boys: Countdown to Liquor Day: Lahey’s soft middle age flab, Randy’s huge, burger filled belly, bested by that of the Dirty Burger owner. And flaunted in such gratuitous display: Lahey spends most of the film prancing about drunk as a doornail in his underwear (and sometimes without it); Randy is perennially shirtless, his gut hanging proudly over his belt. Both Ricky (who looks like an Anglophone Elvis Gratton) and Bubbles have unattractive beer bottle physiques, and Bubbles sports the ugliest pair of coke bottle glasses on television. Ricky’s homeless father looks like a cross between a haggard Mickey Rourke and Michael Madsen (and I mean haggard); while Rapper J-Roc and his sidekick Dog are fashion disasters. What also sets this film apart (at least from American film) as Canadian is its hyper relaxed attitude toward sex, drugs, drinking, petty crime, and homosexuality (what Diduck refers to as an inversion of normal family values). The latter is especially funny and refreshing because the main gay characters are far removed from the usual gay stereotypes. Lahey and Randy are essentially two regular guys, two proverbial ‘odd couple’ bachelors who just happen to be lovers.
The Gay Odd Couple
Lahey loves Randy, who normally loves Lahey if he isn’t drinking himself into obsessive preoccupation over the goings on of Julian and Ricky; and both Randy and Lahey are attracted to hunky (non-gay) Julian, who takes the attention all in stride. Drugs, drinking, and sex (straight and gay) are a natural fabric of the everyday in Trailer Park Boys. Capping off the film’s ‘Canadian-ness’ (not to mention the many Canadian ‘in-jokes’, like the reference to Canadian Tire money, “Horton’s,” the vacationing in Cuba, the ridiculing of big game hunters) is the complete lack of any sense of commercialization (epitomized in the way every brand product is digitally blurred out).