Unfrosted (Netflix) – movie review

You remember that guy… You know, from that show…
Oh, you mean Kramer?
No, no, the other one…
No – the other one
What, Jerry?
Yeah, yeah; that’s him.

Of course – Jerry. After changing the face of television with Seinfeld (1991 – 98), Jerry Seinfeld has spent the next 25 years or so mostly away from the cameras. He’s a prolific producer and writer, but his on-camera appearances have largely been as himself in various guises. His most high-profile work has probably been the quasi-reality series Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee on Netflix. But now the sweet, sweet lure of streaming has brought him back to Netflix for the movie Unfrosted.

If you’ve watched Seinfeld (incidentally, also available on Netflix) recently, you might have noticed that the story of each episode is punctuated by scenes of Jerry doing stand-up. Well, Unfrosted is a bit like Jerry’s stand-up – a little shaggy, a little unfocussed, but sometimes very funny. In fact, Seinfeld and co-writers Spike Feresten and Andy Robin (who both collaborated with him on the underwhelming Bee Movie in 2007) have produced a script that’s basically a stand-up show. It has a through-line of plot but its whole purpose is to deliver jokes. Some of them land, some of them don’t – that’s the way of comedy.

The through-line is the development of Pop Tarts, the sugary pastries that Americans have exported around the world. It sets the story as a kind of “space race” to develop the product. But instead of the USSR and the USA, it’s rival food companies Kelloggs and Post (both real businesses). It’s 1963 and the two companies are in fierce competition – although Kelloggs always seems to win. But Post have an ace up their sleeve. They’ve found a way to create a shelf-stable pastry product that can be cooked in a toaster. Kelloggs boss Edsel Kellogg III (Jim Gaffigan) is worried. He sets exec Bob Cabana (Seinfeld) the task of developing an alternative – and quickly. Cabana ropes in food scientist Donna Stanowski (Melissa McCarthy) – known as Stan – from NASA to help out.

But Post – and its competitive CEO Marjorie Post (Amy Schumer) – aren’t about to take this lying down. With the aid of her somewhat clueless assistant Rick Ludwin (Max Greenfield) she sets about trying to squash Kelloggs’ comeback. That includes enlisting the aid of “Big Milk” represented by Harry Friendly (Peter Dinklage) and Mike Diamond (Christian Slater); a bunch of disaffected mascots led by Thurl Ravenscroft (Hugh Grant); and even the Soviets! Who will be first to market – and more importantly, who will have the best brand name?

The many, many jokes in Unfrosted cover everything a range of real-life events – from the Americans hiring ex-Nazis in the space program ,to the January 6 insurrection in the US. In between, the script offers up bits on the American diet, corporate espionage, and AI. A crazy side-plot involves sea monkeys and sentient pasta. In fact, many of the bits are close to (if not more than) banana-pants crazy. In this whirlwind of jokes, the plot gets kind of lost. But then, if you’ve come to Unfrosted for cerebral plot development, you might want to look elsewhere. If you’ve come for the jokes, Unfrosted generally delivers. And some of them are really clever – the JFK scene for example. And the “Mad Men” bit is genius. But some are cheap, and others just fall flat. And kernels of actual breakfast cereal history may however be found floating in the mayhem.

This is one of those movies that sparks the comment, “They don’t make ’em like that any more”. It definitely calls back to movies of the past. It shares a lot of DNA with the work of another comedy great, Leslie Neilsen (notably Airplane!). And you could also see something of Steve Martin’s early films in there.

Seinfeld, making his feature-film directing debut, keeps things zipping along as you might expect. The film barely takes a beat. The candy-coloured world of sugary breakfast cereals is vividly imagined and brought to life via Clayton Harley’s production design and William Pope’s cinematography. Christophe Beck (WandaVision) adds a suitably upbeat score.

The cast dive into the wackiness of the material, though whether you’d call it “acting” in a traditional sense is debatable. Just about everyone is doing a bit, so it’s more about timing and delivery than emoting. As noted, some of the bits work, others don’t. On balance, more worked for me, but your mileage may vary. Jerry Seinfeld himself – maybe a little oddly – is basically the straight man to the more kooky characters around him. I did however quite like Jim Gaffigan as the rather shlubby Kellogg. Stand-out cameos from Hugh Grant and Peter Dinklage are highlights.

Unfrosted ends up being a likeable romp, even if it doesn’t entirely hold together. But hey, Jerry’s back, baby!

David Edwards

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