Take Off, You Hoser!
Hoser (hōz ´әr): noun. 1. A clumsy, boorish person, especially an uncouth, beer-drinking man often clothed in a flannel lumberjack coat, Kodiak boots and a toque. 2. What you call your little brother when your mother isn't in the room. 3. A highly amusing subgenre of Canadian Cinema (i.e. Hoser Film) often containing a dark, yet poignant undertone.
Canadian Cinema is mainly ignored by its own country and the rest of the world (but occasionally embraced in France). Many of the films made here are American studio productions looking for tax breaks. There are a few auteurs working in the Canadian system: Denys Arcand, David Cronenberg, Guy Maddin and Atom Egoyan. This ScreenAnarchy-O-Meter is not about them.
One very small subgenre of films is very much Canadian (even if one entry below was made in the United States): The Hoser Film. These feature the clueless loser (or losers) who wanders through adult society oblivious to his buffoonery and certainly not willing or able to ever to grow up and join -- not so much the fish out of water as the fish in Molson Canadian. While Adam Sandler may do the stunted man-child shtick, the Canuck way of doing this has a bit more subtlety and a bit more style. Below are a few vintage (and a couple quite new) entries worth introducing yourself to, especially if you have in interest in broadening your cult cinema horizons (in a modest, ah shucks, Canadian way).
Strange Brew – The patron saint of Hoser Films. Spawned from cult sketch comedy show SCTV, the comedy here goes from high-brow to low-brow in a heartbeat as we follow Bob and Doug Mackenzie in their eternal quest for free beer (The mouse in the bottle gag works every time – tutorial here). They take a job at a Toronto brewery which is owned by an evil brewmeister played by Max Von Sydow. Yes, the man who played chess with the devil in Bergman’s The Seventh Seal is plotting to take over the world with drugged beer and has hockey player thugs (looking somewhere between the NHL and Star Wars) to help him along. The shock treatment scenes with Bob and Doug are comic gold.
Goin' Down the Road – The prototype of the hoser-film, right down to the quasi-documentary-slash-vérité style (many of these hoser films are filmed as mock documentaries). Two clueless Nova Scotians set off to make their fortune in the big city of Toronto. Things go from bad to worse when they find out that good jobs don’t exactly grow on trees for those who have no skills. While they find girlfriends and buy furniture on layaway, soon their unemployablity catches up with them to tragic results. Not a comedy in the same vein as many of the other films on display here, it is both gentle and bleak at the same time. A true Canadian film experience.
The Rowdyman – An overlooked gem written and starring one of the patron saints of Canadian cinema: Gordon Pinsent. Here he plays a newfie good old boy who lives a wild life of endless evening drinking (and morning hangovers) and casual flings with many women. His character is not as simple as you first would think. His weekly visits to meet girls in St. John's include a trip to the old age home where he has a bond with an elderly patient who was once a womanizing legend himself. The conversations and body language between these two are at once tangential to the films narrative, but come back to the core of the picture. How to deal with yourself once you have spotted "the girl" that got away, the one you should have married. What is great about this movie is that it is just damn fine storytelling (easy to follow, but subtly complex), the nod to Truffaut's 400 Blows with the final shot is a nice touch. Consider The Rowdyman as a happier companion piece to Goin' Down The Road, which came out only a year prior.
Wayne's World – Probably the most well known film on the list, spawned from Saturday Night Live the same way Strange Brew was spawned from SCTV. In fact, you could say that Wayne’s World is the younger, hip update of The Mackenzie Brothers. (Perhaps in the same way, the Mackenzie Brothers borrowed liberally from Cheech and Chong (the latter being Canadian himself)). It is set in America, but really that America is Scarborough Ontario, and it likely that only Canadians would get the fact that the donut shop in the Detroit suburb Stan Makita’s is actually a funny nod to the Tim Horton’s donut chain founded by a hockey player. Garth (played by undervalued comedian Dana Carvey) is the perfect Hoser, while Mike ‘Austin Powers’ Myers tries to play it cool as Wayne who runs a local access TV show not unlike The Great White North.
Hard Core Logo – The great Hoser rock-doc from director Bruce MacDonald (whose early filmography is also worth a look, especially Roadkill and Highway 61). Flailing punk band Hard Core Logo take it to the road one last time (with a documentary crew) to try to put themselves on the map and raise a little money for punk-legend Bucky Haight (A sublime Julian Richlings, you know, the guy who gets, well…er…cubed at the beginning of Cube) who lost his legs in a gun accident. The lead singer, Joe Dick and guitarist, Billy Tallent (no relation to the current artist Billy Talent) spend the time trying to capture their lost youth on the tour while fighting about Billy’s potential career move to a larger successful American band. This is the dark version of This is Spinal Tap (which could also easily qualifies as a Hoser Film in its own way) with its own unusual blend of comedy and straight up drama.
Phil The Alien – Guaranteed to split audiences due to its zero budget aesthetic and scatter-shot genre-bending execution. Phil is indeed a gigantic bug-like alien who drops to earth and assumes the form of a lumberjack shirt wearing Northern Ontario local. A poor naïve soul, he falls in with the drinking crowd at the local pub with the low rent band, and Graham Greene tending bar. Meanwhile, a secret agency headquartered under Niagara Falls dispatches some fur coat wearing agents (One named “Agent Orange”) to eradicate the reported alien presence. After being thrown in the local jail for drunk and disorderly conduct, Phil finds Jesus, and sets off on a religious quest. The film plays like Kids in the Hall crossed with Peter Jackson’s Bad Taste and has Joe Flaherty doing the voice of a talking beaver to the worst beaver puppet in the history of film (which is nonetheless an ace shot with a sniper rifle). There is strange genius at work here.
Fubar – Western Canadian Hosers rejoice! Michael Dowse's very funny mock-doc features two metal heads who live in Calgary, like to get drunk while camping (setting up the tent is optional), and use the phrase “Turn down the Suck.” The film has the boys doing typical hoser things like smashing in a bus shelter for kicks, and jumping through a campfire while drunk, but turns serious when one of them gets cancer and has to go through chemotherapy. A dark turn for a hoser comedy, perhaps, but listening to the doctors baffled interview when he tries to explain the miracle of his patient keeping his ‘fuzzstache” when the rest of his long metal head locks have fallen away is priceless. Fubar is a great companion piece to the wildly popular Canadian TV show Trailer Park Boys (who through Ivan Reitman are releasing a great big hoser film (“The Big Dirty”) later this year), both Fubar and the Trailer Park Boys TV Pilot were made around the same time at the opposite ends of the country.
Forthcoming Hoser Cinema: