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

justice league documentaries cars TruTV El Rey Hear Us Out 2017 cults See It Skip It Avengers Christmas 72 Emmy Awards VICE DC streaming service golden globes cats theme song Cannes classics LGBT Adult Swim medical drama dragons Pirates 2015 Nickelodeon Epix Pixar asian-american Trophy Talk Rom-Com San Diego Comic-Con Bravo Song of Ice and Fire HBO Max Fox Searchlight hispanic Apple TV+ facebook Pop TV zero dark thirty Dark Horse Comics TCA 2017 versus Comedy Central best canceled Hallmark concert RT History VOD WarnerMedia sitcom films HBO Go superhero die hard Television Critics Association Mudbound Women's History Month Acorn TV A24 animated The CW Elton John Marvel Marvel Television Amazon Studios HBO 2018 Character Guide BBC One Extras Netflix Holidays Kids & Family video on demand italian reviews discovery finale Disney biography sequels travel TCA Winter 2020 First Look dogs blaxploitation TCA Comedy blockbuster remakes all-time YouTube Red festival casting spanish language adventure Apple TV Plus cancelled TV shows RT21 Watching Series TBS Writers Guild of America TV renewals cooking OneApp Rocky Calendar science fiction ratings obituary Music Sundance Now true crime Star Wars venice Red Carpet Pride Month Emmys miniseries FOX Binge Guide reboot Brie Larson slashers unscripted free movies rotten Masterpiece Lionsgate Funimation PlayStation Tarantino GoT a nightmare on elm street war Ghostbusters Awards revenge Spike TCA Awards Polls and Games composers series Mindy Kaling SXSW Drama CNN National Geographic Columbia Pictures BBC America cancelled television crime thriller supernatural Comics on TV Tumblr twilight quibi 2019 nbcuniversal kids Ellie Kemper Sci-Fi The Arrangement directors 21st Century Fox Logo parents Film Turner Lucasfilm TV TLC worst movies Amazon Prime Video Mystery adaptation Freeform YouTube Premium E3 Amazon video Star Trek stand-up comedy Comic Book APB foreign transformers Apple Tomatazos nfl Fox News Musicals Crackle YA screen actors guild documentary DirecTV Tubi hollywood 71st Emmy Awards 4/20 TIFF Television Academy richard e. Grant indie Trivia crossover Vudu WGN Sundance TV Academy Awards Lifetime Christmas movies CMT Cosplay social media Spectrum Originals Disney streaming service dramedy Fantasy zombies Marvel Studios batman First Reviews Peacock Shudder breaking bad latino singing competition Summer jamie lee curtis universal monsters BET SDCC rotten movies we love ABC comedies spinoff satire Universal AMC elevated horror Classic Film Toys TNT A&E sports children's TV Showtime Black History Month Reality Competition french Best and Worst robots anthology toronto cartoon Biopics 2020 Super Bowl mutant DC Universe TCM DC Comics Box Office comics Captain marvel laika stop motion OWN Nominations comiccon dceu Rocketman 45 GLAAD crime drama archives Ovation news IFC TV Land 20th Century Fox The Witch Stephen King BET Awards scary movies anime BBC cinemax SundanceTV zombie FX Sneak Peek canceled TV shows Chernobyl 2016 Emmy Nominations police drama Amazon Prime name the review Photos south america diversity ghosts Quiz indiana jones Discovery Channel Shondaland Teen boxoffice LGBTQ werewolf CBS television MSNBC The Academy spy thriller witnail psycho Pet Sematary Heroines Sundance Western critics book franchise movies space renewed TV shows political drama NBC doctor who Podcast Hallmark Christmas movies festivals Travel Channel crime The Walking Dead The Purge E! christmas movies Premiere Dates Spring TV ESPN romantic comedy Nat Geo docudrama halloween streaming spain Set visit Cartoon Network period drama strong female leads screenings binge Reality spanish nature Country Esquire green book criterion 007 Paramount President sag awards thriller CBS All Access Certified Fresh disaster aliens hist cops Mary Tyler Moore Horror Arrowverse child's play FXX psychological thriller serial killer harry potter game of thrones Winners BAFTA scorecard Valentine's Day DGA award winner talk show what to watch Disney+ Disney Plus Britbox football FX on Hulu PBS Disney Channel NYCC historical drama mission: impossible Starz Fall TV IFC Films Anna Paquin Video Games Action Mary Poppins Returns fast and furious History Rock independent Crunchyroll Winter TV Martial Arts ITV mockumentary Warner Bros. chucky Endgame comic Baby Yoda Musical game show cancelled Infographic Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt stoner 24 frames Grammys MTV politics Interview American Society of Cinematographers Food Network Animation spider-man Holiday Pop movie Marathons Paramount Network YouTube Creative Arts Emmys Awards Tour Thanksgiving Oscars Walt Disney Pictures VH1 Year in Review Superheroe Lifetime Disney Plus Sony Pictures USA toy story ABC Family romance PaleyFest cancelled TV series emmy awards Family CW Seed Hulu Opinion Mary poppins dark dc joker GIFs Syfy worst based on movie USA Network natural history Netflix Christmas movies Election X-Men New York Comic Con tv talk halloween tv Superheroes Trailer Schedule MCU technology Film Festival Turner Classic Movies Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Countdown Black Mirror vampires teaser sequel