Last year, Martin Scorsese’s late capitalist burlesque The Wolf of Wall Street set a new record for the most uses of “the F-word” in a film. According to a Wikipedia entry that tracks these things, like a Farmers’ Almanac for cursing, Wolf managed some 569 F-words across a three-hour running time, an average of 3.16 per minute. (Currently, it’s bested only by a 2005 documentary that takes the F-word as its subject.)
Well, as they say around the arcade, a challenger appears. Swearnet: The Movie, a new film starring Canadian comics Robb Wells, Jean Paul Tremblay and Mike Smith – better known by their rum-swilling, six-paper-joint-smoking alter egos, the Trailer Park Boys – has annihilated Wolf of Wall Street’s impressive F-words-per-minute count, totalling a frankly astonishing 935 uses in just less than two hours. That’s 8.35 FPMs, boys.
The film finds the trio, playing cartoonish versions of themselves, washed up following their successful Showcase TV series, Trailer Park Boys, which made them unlikely iconoclasts of 21st-century Canadian culture. Following a disastrous meeting with a corporate broadcaster, the trio sets out to launch its own 24-hour online news and entertainment channel that permits swearing. So the premise of the network, and the film itself, basically amounts to: swearing.
And yes, there is plenty of swearing in this movie. This sort of unapologetic, unprintable-in-this-paper vulgarity is par for the course for the creators and stars of Trailer Park Boys. What’s conspicuously lacking is that franchise’s grounding sweetness, which bathed the show’s plots of burglary, drunken mischief, marijuana cultivation and rinky-dink criminality in a wash of sentimentality. Bungling and idiotic and nasty as the “boys” were, they were also a family, and that’s what mattered.
Swearnet does something much more cynical. Save for a late-game plot thread that sees Smith “taking one for the team” in a way that remains, again, unprintable, the film is gutted of schmaltz. Where Trailer Park Boys may have fit in somewhere on the edge of Canadian fiction’s longstanding trope of the beautiful loser, Swearnet crashes outside of it. And its profane absurdity, its cluelessness (this is a movie that identifies Tom Green and Carrot Top, incorrectly, as “huge Hollywood stars”), even its out-and-out badness, I find difficult not to perversely admire.
This is Canadian cinema as defiantly ugly and mean as anything churned out from the bowels of callous ol’ Hollywood. This is the cinema of the Ugly Canadian: drunk, sweaty, stoned, decked out in a baggy, tribal tattoo graphic T-shirt, brash and insufferable and obnoxious and swearing, ever swearing. This anti-idyll of the Ugly Canadian is most fulsomely embodied in the flabby contours of Pat Roach (another Trailer Park Boys vet, also playing himself, or some funhouse mirror version of it), who is tapped to dress up as SwearMan: the network’s boozing, puking, constantly cussing mascot.
Like a Jeff Koons sculpture provoking us with our culture’s depraved worship of kitsch, Swearnet feels – unintentionally, but nevertheless – like a confrontation with all the unpleasant, dangling aspects of our national identity that we struggle so desperately to suppress under the thick sweaters of smug politeness and Protestant restraint. Not unlike Harmony Korine’s vital Spring Breakers, which disobediently belly-flopped into the puke and Bud Lite-filled hollows of contemporary American culture, Swearnet proudly pulls mud-spattered pickup-truck doughnuts in our own bogs of cultural excrement. We’re boorish, we’re nasty, we’re loud, misogynistic and homophobic. We’re everything we think we’re not. And we kind of suck.
I mean, if you laugh at Canadian joke-metal singer Sebastian Bach shouting, “Suck my rig!” in a motion picture, how else are you supposed to feel but terrible?