11 March 2022

52 for '22: Canadian Bacon

Movie: Canadian Bacon (1995)
Method: Amazon Prime

"I heard Spider-Man was there"

Why Did I Watch This?

Can you believe that I actually found something worthwhile on Amazon Prime? I was just hanging out on a lazy Saturday morning, my intent wasn't really to find something for this series, since I JUST went off the rails with Soylent Green (1973). But, I saw this on Prime and thought it could be fun, and I had somehow never seen it before. Soon while watching it, I knew I had to add it here.

What Did I Know?

Not too much, as it turns out. I knew John Candy was in it, and it had something to do with Canada, but hell, I thought Candy would be the Canadian (as he is in real life). I kept waiting for Rick Moranis to show up until I realized I was waiting for this movie to become Strange Brew (1983), which does not actually feature John Candy at all, but rather Dave Thomas. So, I very quickly realized I knew nothing about Canadian Bacon.

What Did I Think?

I don't know how certain films get on the all-time comedy list. Looking back on it, the 90s seem now like a huge boon for this, although that's maybe just because that's when I grew up and cemented things like Dumb & Dumber (1994) and Billy Madison (1995) to memory. What helped this status? Well, probably just playing a lot on TV and having some huge stars attached, but there's also this wild anarchy to some of these early films from these guys.

Canadian Bacon is in this silly vein, but it's also a much more global film. It's assuredly a John Candy film, but it focuses less on a specific character journeys and more on being a political farce. The cast is wide and sprawling and it's more enthralled in satire than a prototypical 90s doofus. It's also Candy's last completed film after his death in 1994.

It occupies this weird space. It is definitely a 90s comedy, but it also doesn't act like many of its contemporaries. It is extremely goofy, has a well-rounded cast of characters, doesn't take itself seriously at all, and does feature plenty of drunken male idiots. I am also intrigued by how many 90s films like this, Dumb & Dumber, and Tommy Boy (1995) always chose to take place in the worst, most depressing Northern locations. Dumber in Rhode Island, Tommy in Sandusky, this in Niagara Falls. You just don't see the leafless brown trees and destroyed plains of yellow grass on film anymore. It gives these films such an underdog grit to them.

I don't know how this passed me by for so long. I'm from upstate New York originally and have literally been to these locations. Like, the streets and power plant and stuff, not just the Falls. Why wasn't this movie ever a bigger deal? I just think it was tougher to get into. It doesn't have a super easy premise to dig into. The just of it is that when a President's ratings are slipping post-Cold War and America loses its direction without factories producing weapons for the military-industrial complex, an artificial enemy is generated, this time in the form of Canada.

Maybe that was too much of a stretch for the 90s. It isn't now! Not the Canada thing, but a government obsessed with distracting its people's real problems through war propaganda, power-hungry executives, mortgaging our country's future with industrial contracts, and vilifying artificial enemies are all common practice in mass media in 2022. Watching this right after Soylent Green (1973) was impactful as another film that seems tailor-made to our time, if not its own time.

Watching it he week that Russia invaded Ukraine is also frightening. A lot of the early parts of this film centers on how the US wants to re-instigate Cold War tension with Russia because they were such a convenient force of ire to direct the public's attention and monger fear. Well, here we are. There is an amazing bit of dialogue when the war room is spitting out ideas for who the next enemy could be and someone actually says, "insurgent terrorists" and the idea is quickly dismissed as someone who could pose no real threat to the USA. Take that one however you'd like.

It may make more sense to learn that this was directed by Michael Moore for some reason. Yes, that Michael Moore. It's the only feature he's ever directed, and despite this headline, I can't really find a reason for that. It was not well-liked at the time, and Moore says it was because it was too liberal for mainstream audiences. That's possible, although it really doesn't feel like it these days.

There does feel like this weird Canada feud in the 90s. Well, just this and South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut (1999) features wars with Canada. This movie is filled with Canada jokes, some of which are clever (John Candy chastised for not writing anti-Canadian graffiti in English AND French), others hokey and expected (debates on how to pronounce the letter "O"). Canadians are always depicted as exceptionally polite and with an astounding health care system, and much of the humor comes from the fact that these are abhorrent qualities to Americans. I mean, it's not wrong. There's also conflict about the quality of Canadian Beer. I will take a Labatt's any day!

For some reason I have picked a lot of movies in this series that upend some gender dynamics. This movie is shit with female representation because it was a mainstream comedy made before 2014, but Rhea Pearlman appears at first as a damsel needing saving beyond enemy lines (Canada), but very quickly manages to secure an assault rifle and storm the CN tower.

This leads to the ending, where she actually saves the world from Nuclear Annihilation through good ol' fashioned American violence and anti-Canadian racism, but it's also weird because there's two big groups we follow whose paths influence each other but never meet. It's kind of cool. John Candy does save the President, and they're aware of each other, especially as he keeps bungling up relations on the border, but their goals don't really intersect. It's that rare film where the main hero never meets the main villain, or even knows that the other one exists (see also: The Fifth Element [1997]). I'm unsure if this weakens the film or not. It impedes the focus a little bit, but in general, there is enough irony, silliness, and conniving satire to keep audiences satisfied.

I recommend this, I think it's a pretty famous comedy that perhaps more folks have heard about rather than seen for themselves. It deserves to be higher in that 90s comedy movie pantheon and is worth a look. Hockey hosers!

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