October 5, 2009
Countdown to Liquor day
Although Barry Hertz of the National Post called it "a meandering, nearly laugh-free picture" I think the latest Trail Park Boys movie, Countdown to Liquor Day, is funnier than their last movie. If you like this kind of rough humour, check it out.
This is a comedy, but it is also political. That may seem an odd claim, and I doubt director Mike Clattenburg’s aims are radical social critique. But his intention is to capture reality through the familiar “mockumentary” style. And reality itself is radical – or radicalizing.
Fans of the TV series will recognize the return to Sunnyvale Trailer Park, near working class Halifax and Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. Surprisingly, Sunnyvale has been shifted to a new, clean-cut park with manicured lawns and fancy mobile homes on different section of the property – except the new place doesn’t have proper sewage. In fact, Julian’s old trailer is blocking the only place where you can run proper sewer lines. The drama begins.
We get only a hint of life without a proper toilet system. In the background of one scene, a resident enters an out of place make-shift plywood outhouse. That’s just a tiny side note, however. The situation is left to your imagination. But generally beauty and progress is proven to be superficial. My Layhee slips back into alcoholism. The grinding cycle of poverty is everywhere.
Julian’s latest scheme is painting cars. As the movie opens we see their probation hearing. Julian tells the officers his plan after jail is to start a small business called “Success Auto.” Ricky is brutally honest and says he’ll go back to selling drugs. He then gets into a fight with his interviewers over a smoke. Both are let out. The boys immediately steal a prison van and rob a liquor store.
In fairness, where else could the boys get the capital needed to start a small enterprise? Of course, most small businesses fail – J-Roc nails it when he says Julian’s operation should be called “un-success auto” – and with no customers and Ricky failing his Grade 12, the boy’s wind up deciding to rob a bank.
En route to this event we meet corrupt prison guards and police thugs, and get some food for thought about love: between Bubbles and cats, and between people – mainly between men (why does Julian say that Randy dances well in a dress?) although there are some surprising and not surprising “romances” with women. But women exist on the sidelines. This is a boy’s land. It is also a place where nobody seems to get really hurt -- Mr. Layhey even winds up living the good life in “Communist Cuba”. Yet as readers of Rebel Youth blog and People’s Voice know, Canada's poverty, police and prisons are all miserable, brutalizing, and cruel.
What creates this oppression? Who has stolen these people’s dignity? How do we get out of this? While Countdown to Liquor Day gives us the message that bad choices have a socio-economic context, you won’t find answers to these questions in the movie. After all, that wouldn’t be so funny and feel-good.
And it’s not the point. You’ve got to emphasize with these lovable rouges. They’re a bit like what historian Eric Hobsbawm calls “social bandits” – Robin Hood outlaws, on the edge of society, beacons of resistance. The Trailer Park Boy’s don’t fall out of the elite, the come from our class. Aren’t most of our families just a job-loss and home eviction away from this kind of “un-success”?
So maybe there is a critique. Their major crime operation, after all, is a real ‘big dirty’ – robbing a bank. All this reminds me of two quotes. The first is in words: communist playwright Bertolt Brecht once said that “What is the robbing of a bank compared to the founding of a bank?” The second is an image: a cartoon. A bank executive sits comfortably looking from his office at a robbery in progress in his bank. The robbers point their guns at a teller. The CEO says: “what amateurs.”
And that is exactly what the Trailer Park Boys are.
Who knows, they could have even been stealing bail-out funds. But for that kind of reclamation to be successful, we’ll need a rather broader, stronger and more powerful social movement that's on a bigger countdown than just liquor day.
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