The Zeros

Fred: The Movie Is a Harrowing Endurance Test Born of the YouTube Generation

It's Fred, all right, but it's a stretch to call this unholy mess of spastic outbursts and casual misanthropy an actual movie.

by | June 18, 2019 | Comments

Behind the Zero

Lionsgate
(Photo by Lionsgate)

When superstar YouTuber and world-class dumbass Logan Paul stumbled into the international spotlight last year for disrespecting a dead body he found in Japan’s “Suicide Forest,” adults of the world, for whom the kid-friendly world of YouTube performers like him is like a bizarre, inscrutable foreign language they do not speak, were once again flummoxed.

They wondered how a toxic jock like Paul — a quintessential Ugly American barely into his 20s and, as his Japanese misadventures proved, not the savviest character — could amass a budding entertainment empire with millions of adoring subscribers.

As parents of small, YouTube-loving children like myself can wearily attest, however, “quality” isn’t exactly an important criteria for the six-and-under set when they log on, looking for something to gaze at for a while. It’s usually enough to find something sufficiently broad to appeal to pre-critical minds desperate for loud noises, bright colors, and kinetic movements to fill their sensation-craving heads.

Lionsgate
(Photo by Lionsgate)

This is where YouTube superstar “Fred,” as played by young actor Lucas Cruikshank, comes in. The astonishing and, sadly, enduring popularity of this character reveals the generational disconnect at the heart of YouTube stardom. To kids, Fred is a digital-age Pied Piper that small children apparently find endlessly amusing. The three-minute video “Fred Goes Swimming” has been seen over 70 million times. I imagine at least some of those views came from sadists using it as torture to extract information from unwilling sources.

To adults, Fred’s nasal, nails-on-a-chalkboard whine is a buzzing, intense, nuclear-power irritant that’s unbearable even in short, manic bursts. Yet someone nevertheless imagined it would be a good idea to extend Fred’s widely and rightfully hated shtick to feature length. Because the small, undiscriminating children who constitute Fred’s disturbingly vast fanbase are not professional film critics, generally, the end result, 2010’s Fred: The Movie, earned the dreaded Zero on Rotten Tomatoes.

Here’s a quick tip: as fellow The Zeros entry Garbage Pail Kids: The Movie illustrates all too vividly, if something has to tell you that it’s a movie in its title, it’s probably not much of a movie. Fred: the Movie is no exception, but it’s also a failure and an embarrassment on every other level as well.


The Zero

Lionsgate
(Photo by Lionsgate)

The film opens with a flurry of Fred’s patented fourth-wall-breaking, squealing-directly-at-the-audience shenanigans as he introduces us to his world, which is suffused with loneliness and despair at a level seldom seen outside Todd Solondz films. Understandably friendless high schooler Fred spends his days stalking crush Judy (visibly embarrassed British pop star Pixie Lott), getting relentlessly bullied at school, pining for the return of a dad who abandoned him but who appears in fantasies as a muscle-bound, endlessly aggressive John Cena (who seems to be playing himself, although that’s never established explicitly), and doting on a sloppy, alcoholic mother (Saturday Night Live’s Siobhan Fallon) who is perpetually hungover, bleary-eyed, and in need of a nap after another regrettable, drunken one night stand.

The film centers on its protagonist’s Quixotic attempts to win the heart of his crush by finding a way for them to sing together, a process that mostly involves Fred screaming semi-coherently while talking compulsively to a camera that he rightfully treats as his only friend.

Fred: The Movie deviates so dramatically from the template of even the flimsiest, most perfunctory children’s movies that it threatens at times to devolve into an avant-garde stream of consciousness. It doesn’t feel like we’re being entertained by an exuberant, if divisive, goofball. Instead, it feels like we’re being given a window into the tortured psyche and feverish, myopic imagination of someone genuinely unhinged. This isn’t a geek’s fun adventure to track down the girl of his dreams; it’s a nervous breakdown in cinematic form, a waking nightmare from which Fred can never escape.

Fred seems incapable of processing reality. When Judy and her parents move, he thinks she’s been kidnapped by Asians. When a man talks to him in Spanish, he assumes the stranger is a space alien and that he’s gone insane and is no longer able to understand human language. Every misunderstanding sparks yet another helium-pitched tantrum that’s drawn out sadistically to get this baby just barely to feature length.

Lionsgate
(Photo by Lionsgate)

As played by Cruickshank, Fred’s baseline is screaming, writhing, look-at-me hysteria. There’s no way that could be sustainable over the course of a feature film. It’s not even sustainable over the course of three minutes.

Nevertheless, the filmmakers assume audiences won’t tire of Fred yelling at the top of his lungs about whatever he’s freaking out about at any given moment. The character’s popularity on YouTube unfortunately backs up that assertion when, in fact, Fred’s obnoxiousness leaves you pining for supporting characters that might provide even the briefest respite from the titular abomination.

As if to acknowledge that even Cruickshank himself and the target audience for Fred: The Movie will grow weary of Fred, Cruickshank plays a dual role as a vaguely metal-head burnout named Derf, who’s more appealing and less annoying than Fred pretty much by default. Fred is so insufferable that he not only requires a strong comic foil, but an entire world of characters who are not him, just to be bearable.

Fred: The Movie isn’t completely worthless, though. There’s a germ of a good idea in the weird fantasy sequences involving John Cena. It’s the only time the film’s half-assed surrealism and lazy absurdity pays off. The wrestling superstar commits to this silliness, and to incongruous bursts of paternal concern, with a deadpan commitment that foreshadows his unexpected evolution into a sought-after comic actor later in the decade.

The movie would be easier to take if it had any underlying sympathy for its protagonist. But it sure feels like the film itself would shove Fred in a locker, give him a wedgie, and subject him to all manner of good-natured and not-so-good-natured bullying if it had an opportunity to. Fred: The Movie is a weirdly sour, misanthropic endeavor that takes unseemly delight in piling one humiliation after another onto its obnoxious protagonist.

Lionsgate
(Photo by Lionsgate)

The movie really hits a nadir when Fred finally makes it to Judy’s party and, after being humiliated by bullies in front of his mocking classmates, proceeds to vomit profusely on Judy’s chest before fleeing in horror. It’s like the pig’s blood scene in Carrie, only more disturbing and not as funny.

In a meta twist, the puke video makes Fred YouTube-famous, which provides us with many, many more opportunities to see our hapless protagonist projectile vomit all over the object of his desire. Fred: The Movie does not afford its protagonist much in the way of dignity, and I haven’t even touched upon the instances in the film where Fred soils himself.

“Why do people even want to watch other people on YouTube! It’s weird! It’s creepy! I don’t get it! I just don’t get it!” Fred howls in despair at people laughing at his humiliation and misfortune. The lines are supposed to ring with wry self-deprecation. Instead, they feel like the only emotionally authentic moment in the film. 

Fred: The Movie tries to marry the YouTube aesthetic — insufferable caricatures screaming directly at the camera, jump cuts to create a sense of movement and kinetic energy even when there is none, relentlessly manic pacing, broad physical comedy, free-floating misanthropy — to cinematic storytelling with singularly unappealing, unpalatable results. Watching Fred: The Movie is like spending 83 minutes inside the mind of its title character. It’s a horrible place to visit for even a brief trip, but stretched out to feature length, it feels like an eternity.

In their bid to appeal to the tiny attention spans of very young children, YouTube stars like Fred crank everything up to 11, including, unfortunately but inevitably, the irritation level. Despite its title, Fred: The Movie  isn’t a movie: it’s a harrowing endurance test.


Final Verdict

Lionsgate
(Photo by Lionsgate)

Fred: The Movie doesn’t merit the “movie” part of its title, but it earns its consensus Zero by transferring the awfulness of YouTube to a new medium. Critics rightly roasted the film en masse, if only as retribution for having to live with Fred’s nasal whine in their abused psyches. The world being what it is, however, the movie’s toxic response did not keep it from spawning two sequels.

That’s right, not only is Fred technically a movie, he’s a trilogy that stands as yet another enduring testament to the low, low standards and equally low expectations of the depressingly easy-to-please audience for YouTube superstars like him and Logan Paul. Unlike Fred, Paul is not, remarkably, an outlandish fictional character cruelly mocking the stupidity and immaturity of today’s obnoxious man-children, particularly those obsessed with YouTube superstardom. He merely comes off that way.


Nathan Rabin is the author of six books and the proprietor of Nathan Rabin’s Happy Place.
Follow Nathan on Twitter: @NathanRabin


Like this? Subscribe to our newsletter and get more features, news, and guides in your inbox every week.

Tag Cloud

Pet Sematary screen actors guild stand-up comedy The Witch Academy Awards Rocketman miniseries robots Marvel biography Sci-Fi Sundance Paramount canceled TV shows 2016 romantic comedy YouTube Premium Baby Yoda Premiere Dates revenge facebook AMC zombies Hulu diversity CW Seed cinemax ESPN Acorn TV cults USA Network The CW spinoff YA YouTube mockumentary Mindy Kaling Shondaland NYCC Crunchyroll FOX SDCC Podcast History Extras green book New York Comic Con animated DC Universe Netflix VH1 Apple vampires Netflix Christmas movies Captain marvel comics 71st Emmy Awards SXSW Starz Cartoon Network elevated horror Marvel Television Pirates TV renewals Polls and Games TCA Winter 2020 Spike based on movie Musicals natural history Martial Arts Vudu Lionsgate 2015 movies Esquire politics ratings nature social media anthology Walt Disney Pictures Sundance Now reboot Quiz supernatural video Family SundanceTV CBS All Access Toys Tomatazos FXX festivals Pride Month Mary Tyler Moore Film Festival Biopics historical drama Discovery Channel Peacock Fall TV cancelled television sports BBC First Reviews DirecTV Cosplay award winner richard e. Grant Oscars See It Skip It PaleyFest cancelled TV shows Sneak Peek Christmas directors Pixar IFC Films Hallmark Christmas movies Creative Arts Emmys canceled Spectrum Originals Writers Guild of America sag awards free movies Black Mirror Opinion YouTube Red independent Music political drama cartoon Calendar Star Trek foreign screenings Mary poppins Winter TV boxoffice hispanic 007 American Society of Cinematographers Arrowverse Kids & Family Winners Britbox Dark Horse Comics TNT 20th Century Fox werewolf A24 toy story Sundance TV Mudbound APB anime rotten movies we love Nat Geo Country OneApp Comics on TV docudrama Valentine's Day Logo police drama jamie lee curtis Red Carpet quibi dramedy 24 frames The Purge HBO Freeform Apple TV+ Amazon Prime Video Chernobyl crossover CMT zero dark thirty Television Academy Trophy Talk BET sequel Emmys 2019 name the review casting book theme song Food Network tv talk travel Bravo Animation Horror spain Comedy Central DC streaming service cats Ghostbusters strong female leads Trivia cooking Countdown TruTV Nominations Superheroes Lifetime Warner Bros. Ovation 2018 what to watch BBC America GoT war MTV Musical LGBT Spring TV WGN VICE period drama The Arrangement TV adaptation Certified Fresh RT21 Schedule Comic Book talk show spider-man X-Men RT History Interview TIFF Disney Channel E3 TCA 2017 thriller NBC Tubi Crackle Heroines Lifetime Christmas movies Turner Masterpiece Grammys Disney Avengers comic A&E Film Stephen King Women's History Month series 2020 kids Showtime blaxploitation doctor who Tarantino adventure Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Marathons ABC Family Rocky IFC discovery Comedy Drama dragons DC Comics game of thrones crime drama Super Bowl Disney+ Disney Plus WarnerMedia transformers finale renewed TV shows First Look Song of Ice and Fire game show CBS The Walking Dead Infographic versus dceu Best and Worst MCU Fox News batman TLC Set visit Photos golden globes National Geographic Holidays Hallmark hist CNN Mary Poppins Returns teaser Reality Competition cars DGA Action Anna Paquin Box Office Epix Binge Guide Mystery El Rey TV Land TBS Lucasfilm joker Chilling Adventures of Sabrina romance psychological thriller Nickelodeon witnail Election Rom-Com blockbuster Universal President Character Guide OWN children's TV indie Tumblr San Diego Comic-Con disaster Watching Series space Disney Plus Marvel Studios Western Shudder PBS latino HBO Max slashers Ellie Kemper TCM television sitcom cancelled FX Elton John Star Wars Superheroe 2017 spanish language streaming Awards Tour Brie Larson ghosts Syfy unscripted USA Video Games GIFs Cannes harry potter cancelled TV series psycho Rock Year in Review Summer Paramount Network halloween cops serial killer Apple TV Plus south america Awards Amazon Fantasy Amazon Prime comiccon breaking bad justice league Thanksgiving crime thriller Classic Film Trailer Adult Swim medical drama Turner Classic Movies Columbia Pictures Sony Pictures composers GLAAD 45 mutant 21st Century Fox true crime TCA science fiction MSNBC Emmy Nominations ABC E! aliens binge LGBTQ technology Endgame Pop Teen Disney streaming service spy thriller crime Holiday Reality ITV dc singing competition christmas movies zombie