Review – Unfrosted

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Overview

Synopsis A group of breakfast cereal executives stumble upon the greatest idea of their career that could revolutionize breakfast for the world.

Length 1 hour, 37 minutes

Release Date May 3, 2024

 

Rating PG-13

Distribution Netflix

Directing Jerry Seinfeld

Writing Jerry Seinfeld, Spike Feresten, Andy Robin, Barry Marder

Composition Christophe Beck

Starring Jerry Seinfeld, Melissa McCarthy, Jim Gaffigan, Max Greenfield, Hugh Grant, Amy Schumer

You may or may not have heard that one of the year’s most controversial films is a Jerry Seinfeld parody film about pop tarts. But this is the strange world we live in. The peculiar movie plopped onto Netflix in May, made a surprising splash, was declared “one of the decade’s worst movies,” and faded from public memory, as most Netflix films do. Nearly two months later, the movie is still strangely sticking with me.

Content Guide

Violence/Scary Images: Some comical slapstick and violence. Several characters die in cartoonish ways. There’s a parody of gang violence and kidnapping by unlikely characters.
Language/Crude Humor: Some heavy language throughout including h***, d***, g**d***, and f***.
Drug/Alcohol References: Characters drink and smoke throughout the film.
Sexual Content: Frequent crude sexual innuendo, but little is depicted in terms of actual sexual acts.
Spiritual Content: Limited to none.
Other Negative Content: The film revolves around the usage of underhanded corporate tactics, such a child exploitation and undervaluing employees, although the film is a satire of such dealings.
Positive Content: Themes of success, innovation, and overcoming challenges.

Review

Jerry Seinfeld is a strangely affectionate man. His famous sitcom from the 1990s doesn’t reflect this, as it reflects the abiding misanthropy of his creative partner, Larry David. Under the hood, Seinfeld is one of the darkest sitcoms of the 1990s, but I don’t think that’s necessarily true of the titular man. 

When one surveys Seinfeld’s body of work, one encounters a comedian with a relatively tame and gentle approach. He makes sex and ethnicity jokes like every comedian, but his standup has generally been regarded among the more gentle stuff coming out of a field that regularly produces barn-burners like George Carlin, Norm MacDonald, and Dave Chapelle. 

Seinfeld’s observational humor is generally very light, focusing on fluffier mundane fare and the common absurdities of daily life. He also has a deep affection for Americana, Superman, suburbia, and breakfast cereal that has made him relatable to the common man’s sensibilities. For whatever reason, he’s returned to the subject of breakfast cereal multiple times across his career. 

Given that he’s become a multi-millionaire from Seinfeld residuals, he’s mostly dropped out of Hollywood, shy of rare projects like Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee and Bee Movie. He’s a free man, untied to the system and free to pursue his interests, spending his days focusing on sports cars and expensive coffee machines. But that changed when he released his directorial debut on Netflix.

Despite its pedigree, Unfrosted is now one of the more controversial films of the 2020s. But there’s no real consensus on it. The Chicago Sun-Times declared it “one of the decade’s worst movies,” while The Hollywood Reporter praised it as “gleefully silly.” It’s either one of the dumbest movies ever made or one of the most wacky comedy premises in decades. 

It’s understandable why the film would garner such a reputation. It is a movie about franchise brands and corporations being released at a time when those things are abused. Last year’s most talked about movie was the Mattel-backed Barbie, and Disney superhero films continue to limp along. We’re inundated with corporate schlock, so a biopic about Kellogg’s inventing the Pop-Tart elicits negativity. 

Thankfully, Unfrosted isn’t shilling for Kellogg’s. The movie is too absurd for that and cushions its story in enough layers of unreality that it cannot be mistaken for anything less than parody. It is certainly very dumb, but it is a very intentional movie in the manner of Weird: The Al Yankovic Story. The audience’s knowledge of the unreality is part of the joke because we know that Kellogg’s didn’t accidentally cause the Cuban Missile Crisis, just as we know Weird Al wasn’t assassinated in 1985 by Madonna live on stage.  

The chemistry of a film like this could so easily fall into cynicism or irony, but that never happens under Seinfeld’s hand. The film’s opening image is of a child packing up his possessions to run away. The camera looms lovingly over the toys of a child, showing great affection for the way a child protects his baseball cards. 

The entire movie has a layer of 1960s suburban nostalgia caked over it. The film puts a weird amount of effort into portraying the style and aesthetics of the 1960s positively. It leans into a nostalgic vision of America’s past, with little irony, disdain, or reference to the greater political tumult of the decade.  

It’s impossible to call Unfrosted anything more than a goofy lark. Its dramatic structure is borrowed from every corporate biopic ever made and blatantly wears the cliches of its genre. Its jokes are obvious and predictable. However, its comedic timing is wonderful and its self-awareness gives it the breathing room to lean into the melodrama and laugh with itself. 

These are strengths that come purely from Seinfeld’s direction. In the hands of Larry David, Unfrosted would be a disaster. It would be detached, cynical, and self-loathing, unable to navigate the overt commercialism of its premise. But Jerry Seinfeld isn’t Larry David. He is genuinely amused by breakfast cereal and lets his ability to spin yarn on mundanity and turn an otherwise cliche story into a lark. From this fount pours bizarre creative decisions, like Bill Bur’s cameo as President John F. Kennedy or a subplot about Chef Boyardee accidentally creating a sentient ravioli noodle out of sea monkeys.  

A movie about Pop-Tarts isn’t a cutting-edge idea, but not every movie needs to be on the knife’s edge. Giving this story the same weight and dire consequences as a haughty prestige drama like Blackberry or The Social Network generates melodrama. Casting Hugh Grant as a Shakespearian actor forced to dress up as Tony the Tiger captures the film’s dissonance. Using a Vertigo-zoom to express Seinfeld’s shock the first time he tastes a Pop-Tart only highlights the absurdity of giving such great meaning to something so silly. 

It is a frivolous comedy, and who else but Jerry Seinfeld could’ve made it feel sincere enough to be funny? Who would’ve dared to make a film like this in the first place? 

Positives

+ Goofy premise
+ Fun execution

Negatives

- Some bizarre performances
- Dumb plot and ideas

The Bottom Line

Unfrosted is not one the best films ever made, but it is a strangely sweet and funny film that goofs on many of the most popular movie tropes of the past decade in a melodramatic way.

 

7

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Tyler Hummel

Tyler Hummel is a Nashville-based freelance journalist, a College Fix Fellow, and a member of the Music City Film Critics Association. He has contributed to Geeks Under Grace, The Living Church, North American Anglican, Baptist News Global, The Tennessee Register, Angelus News, The Dispatch, Voeglin View, Hollywood in Toto, Law and Liberty, The Federalist, Main Street Nashville, Leaders Media, and the Catholic Herald of Milwaukee.

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