Tubi Is Reviving a Lost Joy: Watching Really, Really Bad Movies – The New York Times

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Their films have gone viral for their awful production values. But their success says fascinating things about what comes after prestige TV.

There’s a 2008 movie that offers an odd preview of today’s entertainment. In Michel Gondry’s “Be Kind Rewind,” a bizarre accident demagnetizes the entire inventory of a video rental store, so a clerk and his eccentric friend decide to remake all the films themselves, from “The Lion King” to “Driving Miss Daisy” to “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Their versions are 20 minutes long (at most), shot on an old hand-held video camera and produced in a delightfully quirky, ad hoc way: handcrafted props and sets, buddies working as extras, costumes from the local dry cleaner. They call their tapes “Sweded,” explaining the time it takes to supply films by claiming the copies have to be imported from Scandinavia. In Gondry’s fantasy, the community responds well to this homespun cinema: Not only does demand go up, but store patrons begin to participate in making the movies. Gondry’s theory, he has said, was that “people would enjoy films better if they shot them themselves.”
Sixteen years later, that democratic spirit is alive on Tubi, the cult-hit streaming platform that has become a social media phenomenon. Tubi’s library includes plenty of conventional Hollywood productions, but the company may be best known for its selection of Z-movies: films characterized by outrageously low-budget aesthetics, short run times, horrible acting and worse special effects. The archetypal “Tubi movie” is like a Sweded tape without the charm or whimsy. The style recalls a host of beloved filmmaking traditions: slasher films, midnight movies, Lifetime dramas, stilted 1970s erotica, poorly dubbed martial-arts flicks, Nigeria’s “Nollywood” thrillers, Tyler Perry’s videotaped stage plays, insipid direct-to-video filler.
But boy are they fun to watch — so deliriously bad they’re good. Tubi offers schlocky movies of all types (horror, disaster, holiday, rom-com), but the kind that has captivated audiences is something like the self-published “urban fiction” crime novels of the early aughts. The director Silk White’s “All I Want Is You 2” is perhaps the most infamous, owing to a clip that lit up social media. Sixty-two minutes long, the film stars a former Real Housewife of Atlanta, Claudia Jordan, as Chloe. In the scene that went viral, Chloe, having just gotten out of prison, goes to the home of her old boyfriend, only to discover that he has since partnered with his former parole officer and fathered a young daughter. At the climax of this confrontation, Chloe produces a gun (from where is hilariously unclear) and shoots her ex and his new woman, amid canned Foley sounds and a postproduction visual cloud like something out of a fake Stan Brakhage animation. The daughter, having just watched her parents’ murders, trills that she’s “just a kid” and raises her hands in front of her face. A schmaltzy score emphasizes the emotional stakes. Chloe hesitates. No, you think. In a time of extreme gun violence and school shootings, surely they will not depict this protagonist straight-up icing a kindergartner. But then Chloe does, and it’s a testament to just how cartoonishly bad and unreal these movies are — how unseriously you take them — that as fake gun smoke hovers above a dead kid’s head, the only possible reaction is to laugh.
Whatever financial resources these directors lack, they make up for it in gall. Flaws are so brazen that you wonder if the filmmakers are advancing some kind of “theater of the absurd” high-art narrative deconstruction. Only on Tubi do actors fail at pantomiming basic human behavior. In Vicky Gladney’s “My Father’s Keeper,” a Black couple’s new twins are represented by what are very clearly white baby dolls, even in close-ups. (Perhaps the genes for skin tone and matte finish were recessive.) The second of three “The Stepmother” films, a Tubi Original directed by Chris Stokes, features a flabbergasting continuity error in which the actor playing a security guard changes multiple times in one scene, despite one actor’s having a short Afro and the other’s wearing braids. In the series “Coming Out,” a woman hits a young man with a frying pan in the manner that Wile E. Coyote might drop an anvil. My favorite feature, “To Love the Soul of a Woman,” incorporates blood spatter that looks like digitized ketchup and a flashback scene to a Bosnian war zone that appears as if it were shot in an Atlanta municipal park. (And features a guerrilla assailant played by a Black woman in fresh braids.) If you watch only one Tubi clip, please let it be the one that follows the improbable path of a bullet, which hits a tree with enough force to slump a woman hiding on the other side.
These moments turn out, in the social media era, to be the best promo such films could hope for. Gladney, the director of “My Father’s Keeper,” once joined a thread of TikTok commenters castigating her film: “It was covid ya’ll!! My first film, writer, director and producer. Show me some love.” In a way, people have — by sharing the clip online, even if the posts are soundtracked by uproarious laughter.
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