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Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Billy's Dad is a Fudge-Packer! (2004)


Director: Jamie Donahue
Stars: D C Douglas, Robert Gant, Cady Huffman, Alex Borstein, Gina Rodgers and Spencer Daniels


Index: Weird Wednesdays.

If Eaten Alive! A Tasteful Revenge was inept, even sixty pictures into the WAVE Productions' filmography, the wonderfully titled Billy's Dad is a Fudge-Packer!, Jamie Donahue's debut as a writer and director, is vastly more professional. It's also a whole heck of a lot of fun, so much so that the family literally burst into applause when the end credits rolled. As the title might suggest, if you have the right state of mind, it's a throwback to the education films of the fifties, played straight throughout but with a narration that couldn't contain more double entendres if it tried. A few are a little too obviously set up, but others steal in as surprises and save the day. The quality is high throughout, both in front of and behind the camera, but it's D C Douglas who unarguably shines brightest as the narrator. Highly experienced both as a voice actor and a regular one, in film, television, anime and video games, he nails the tone as perfectly as if it had been his job since the 1950s and he'd merely leapt through time to make this one too.

If you've ever seen an educational short from that era, you know what to expect here, merely translated into double entendres like the title. Billy's dad really is a fudge packer; he packs fudge down at the local Creamy Pleasures Candy factory, where he has many men under him. That's the sort of thing you'll pick up in this Audio-Visual Learning Aid from Educational Film Corporation, makers of Thalidomide: Wonder Drug of the Future and Why Do We Have Coloured People? If that sounds politically incorrect to you, it's only the beginning. The fifties were the golden age of American sexism, so while Billy worries about the upcoming Career Day, he wishes he had it as easy as his big sister. 'All she has to worry about is being pretty,' the narrator tells him, 'and making a good wife someday,' Of course, such comparisons are not worth making. 'This is the way things are because this is the way things should be!' To emphasise roles, Sister is referred to throughout as Sister, just as Mother is only ever Mother.
It's not worth going much further into the synopsis, which naturally involves Billy's dad explaining what he does at work, because you should experience it for yourself, something you fortunately can because it's on YouTube. Be advised that you should watch in a crowd, if at all possible, because the more people around you while you watch the better it gets, as laughter is contagious. I'll just highlight that while the gags are mostly obvious and overt, some are a little more subtle; not everyone will catch each one. For instance, how many people watching today who are too young to remember videos like this are also too young to remember the Village People? Of course, not everyone will recognise each sexual reference, as many tie as much to culture as to experience. I also enjoyed the lesbian overtones of Betty Henderson, the baker's wife, as much because polite society just didn't have such things back then as for the jokes themselves. Any fifties educational video about lesbians would really be pretty scary propaganda!

While Douglas sells the film, many others help him do it. The score from Rob Cairns is just as appropriate as Douglas's rich tones and the costumes and sets from Mynka Draper and Ana Veselic are likewise. The actors were well cast, as much for their looks as their acting ability, but they satisfy on both fronts. Billy is played by Spencer Daniels, who would soon play the twelve year old version of the title character in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and, a year later, appear in the Star Trek reboot. Alex Borstein, playing Betty, made this the same year she made Catwoman, making this the one to own up to, but was already five years into her most famous role as the voice of Lois Griffin in Family Guy. The actors who play Billy's parents aren't quite as recognisable, but they're busy actors with ever-expanding filmographies. This was a serious cast. It's hard for a film to live up to a title like this, but Billy's Dad is a Fudge-Packer! manages it with aplomb. If only all short comedies were this funny.

Billy's Dad is a Fudge-Packer! can be watched for free on YouTube.

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