SECOND CHANCE CINEMA: 'Thunderpants'
On paper,Thunderpants sounds like it’d be a movie that
you’d forget as soon as you saw it. The story follows a young
boy named Patrick Smash who dreams of being an astronaut, but his
main problem holding him back is that he’s constantly farting
and they smell particularly bad. His only friend in the world is a
science whiz who was born without a sense of smell named Alan A.
Allen. As you can guess, Allen is ridiculed at school for being a
nerd; however, Patrick gets even more vicious torture at the hands
of the bully because he has a severe medical problem. Thing change
when the U.S. government needs the help of Patrick’s
“ass” (as the character puts it) in order to power a
rocket ship on a solo mission to save a group of stranded
astronauts. But enough of giving you the baseline plot, let’s
see what in fact makes this film stand out. From the director ofBill and Ted’s Bogus Journey I give you the trailer
Yup… that’s Rupert Grint! Ron Weasley himself plays the kid with the laziest name in Hollywood history, Alan A. Allen. But what is fascinating (absolutely fascinating) is the rest of the cast. You have respected British comedian Stephen Fry, respected British actor Simon Callow(similar last name to the “American Idol” guy), respected American actor Paul Giamatti, the guy who was forced to “squeal like a piggy” inDeliveranceNed Beatty (I can’t see him any other way after that… don’t watch), and going uncredited in the cast list with one line in the film isKeira Knightley, who must’ve gotten famous after this was filmed but before it was released because she is listed in the “Special Thanks” portion. (Josh Henderman, who also appeared in Harry Potter as Goyle, is the school bully.)
Outside of the casting is the sheer master class of filmmaking this total U.K. box office bomb displays. The movie was silently released in the U.S. after performing so poorly in the U.K., but obviously the U.S. distributor, The Weinstein company (groan), saw dollar $igns in Grint’s name enough to release it straight to video to bank off of. Nonetheless, Thunderpants has somehow survived to make its way into my late-20s eye sockets and I have to say… it’s darn impressive.
The fact thatThunderpants took a basic premise of a kid who farts so terribly it causes woe and dismay for all those around him who can smell and make it watchable is collosal perfection. I have not seen such precise, entertaining, and different storytelling since2001: A Space Odyssey. I mean, Patrick’s farts as an infant are so horrendous that it causes a chain reaction of familial problems (and forced Stanley Kubrick to roll in his grave after my statement) where his father abandons the family and his mother falls into alcoholism… if that is not on par with the monkey person in 2001 throwing a bone in the air where it twirls until Stanley Kubrickdissolves the shot into a space station, thus detailing the advances of humankind from primitive tools to sophisticated ones of the future, then I know as much about film and storytelling as the casting people for Thunderpants knew about casting when they only saw Keira Knightley talented enough to play the role of “Music School Student” in a film about a kid with gastrointestinal problems.
What makesThunderpants so watchable is the fact that, while it is about a kid who farts a lot, they really only roll with that premise in the beginning of the film. Sure, he lets some extreme toots out over the course of the film, but it has a total of fifty farts to count (and at least one body), and somewhere between 65 and 75 percent of them are in the first 20 minutes of the 87-minute run time. That shows you that, when it comes to fart jokes to this frequency, the best way to pull them off is PACING. Even if you watch South Park: Bigger Longer and Uncut, they put the farts of Terrence and Phillip in full force at the beginning of the movie during the musical’s second song, "Uncle F#cker", and then afterwards they give the characters and audience time to breath before pumping them full of gas again.
mathematics behind fart jokes aside, Thunderpants also
shows us how to effectively tell a story without overbearing
audiences with a plot. It reminds us that not all movies do
plot-heavy blockbusters with a hero who needs to solve an
antagonistic problem inside and outside of them. Some movies are
just a series of events that set off episodic reactions for us to
enjoy watching a character go through, like Ladybird orThe Jerk. Sure, there is a plot to this film involving
Patrick needing to save astronauts with his farts, but it comes
later on. Just like my favorite sports film Goon,
it’s about a protagonist who was born with a skill that they
never really found useful, but then they find a good use for said
skill, and by the end they themselves aren’t exactly changed.
Their status may have changed and they are happier feeling
accepted, but they as a person aren’t any different because
they never really needed to be. They’re both perfect in their
own flawed ways, but nothing about these two characters is or has
ever been threatening or harmful to others. It’s really the
people around them, in these cases, who have the problem of not
being able to accept our main character’s flaws… aside
from the best friend characters in each of these films, who are
ultimately the ones to encourage the main characters to use their
skills in a way they never imagined before.
My final thoughts on Thunderpants would be that you should watch it with a group of friends and not tell them anything about it. If you’re able to get a DVD, it’s also advised that you watch every decade-spanning trailer beforehand to make yourself really question just when this was released.
Fun fact: On an appearance on “The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien” on January 24, 2011 (according to Wikipedia so take it or leave it), Paul Giamatti said that making this film was one of the high points in his career. Sarcastic or not, if you watch him as he plays Johnson J. Johnson, even when he’s in the background, you can see how absolutely and hardcore serious he took this role.
(Image via Pathé Pictures International)
- Kevin Donaldson, YH Contributing Writer