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Unfrosted Film Review: Tastes Tart, Lacks Pop

A woman and two men look at the camera from behind a stack of flour in the Netflix film Unfrosted

Jerry Seinfeld’s corporate satire Unfrosted fails to bring many effective jokes or a strong message to the (breakfast) table.

Director: Jerry Seinfeld
Run Time: 133′
Global Release: May 3, 2024
Watch Unfrosted: on Netflix

It says something that, even after getting origin stories of Blackberry organisers, the Air Jordan sneaker and Tetris, a movie about the humble Pop Tart can’t help but sound like a mickey-take.

Thankfully, Unfrosted is just that. Director/co-writer/star Jerry Seinfeld is the world’s best-known connoisseur of breakfast cereal (Can you think of any others?), and opts to take a curious side-eyed look at the creation of that snack that you might recall having a few times as a child, but haven’t given an active thought to in decades. No-one was screaming out for Unfrosted, but if the guy that had an animated bee sue humans for our honey consumption wants to poke fun, it should be memorable. 

Unfrosted could have been a tasty pastiche of the recent corporate biopic trend, leaning into an exaggerated 1960s look and sound to accentuate its parodic intent. However, as a narrative on its own terms, it’s as artificial and nutritionally lacking as its central product. It doesn’t help that it has no interest whatsoever in actually sticking to any facts pertaining to the creation of the rectangular snack. The action centres on Battle Creek, Michigan, home to Kellogg’s and their rivals, Post. The two factories loom over the town like nemeses in some demented cartoon. Indeed, the phrase ‘demented cartoon’ describes Unfrosted’s register quite nicely. The first act has promise, with production design like early Tim Burton (Think the normie town in Edward Scissorhands, all primary-coloured kitsch), there’s a neat attention to the production detail that makes you wish this was actually the real story.

Seinfeld plays Kellogg’s executive Bob Cabana. Cabana is an invention, ergo he did not invent the Pop Tart (Bill Post, the man he’s inspired by, did). Bob works for Edsel Kellogg III (Jim Gaffigan, of Linoleum), who is also a made-up character. If our protagonists are invented, and telling an invented story about a real product, what is the actual point of Unfrosted? Satirizing these business true stories can not be sufficient motive for Seinfeld to make this movie.

The recent trend of commercial biopics has been frightfully successful, but they are just another spin on a classic rags-to-riches idea, just replacing people with products. It’s the American Way! As a punching bag, the genre is low-hanging fruit, and it feels like a satire of itself already (A movie about Doritos? Are we that low on ideas?). If they wanted, Seinfeld and his three co-writers could have turned Unfrosted into the Walk Hard of these corporate stories, mocking them while also creating an endearing identity of its own. However, Walk Hard is consistently funny. Unfrosted isn’t.

Hugh Grant holds a bag of frosties looking angry dressed as Thurl in the Netflix film Unfrosted
Hugh Grant as Thurl Unfrosted (John P. Johnson/Netflix © 2024)

The main thrust of Unfrosted sees Kellogg’s get wind of a new pastry product being developed by Post, with the potential to hit their rivals right in the wallet. Post head Marjorie Post is played by Amy Schumer (Bros), but any similarities between the real woman and her onscreen portrayal end at the name. From that setup comes any number of plot threads that don’t particularly compel or entertain. Cabana reaches out to former colleague Donna Stanowski (Melissa McCarthy, probably the most committed performer in the film) to leave NASA and help develop their own pastry snack, though the main point here appears to be getting a shot of Seinfeld and McCarthy riding a moon buggy.

So much of Unfrosted’s humour feels forced and uncertain. When assembling a task force to develop the new snack, getting Chef Boyardee (Bobby Moynihan) or fitness guru Jack LaLanne involved offers no good jokes, other than for James Marsden to have a bit of fun as the preening LaLanne. The tone is all over the place, going back and forth between ribald and childish with no idea where to land.

Unfrosted is stacked with comedians in cameos playing figures real and invented, from JFK to Nikita Khrushchev to Snap, Crackle and Pop. For all the effort invested in putting the film together and getting all these performers involved, the jokes just don’t land. When two advertising executives arrive, played by two actors sullying their best-known roles, the bottom of the barrel feels thoroughly scraped. Of the cast, Hugh Grant gets the most laughs as the disgruntled voice of Tony the Tiger, but his attempts to lead a mascot coup of the company is as pointless as any other plot development here. Even the dialogue veers between obvious camp (A character reading a newspaper: “Vietnam? Ooh, that sounds like a good idea.”) and feeble stabs at contemporaneousness (“We can’t say ‘hobo’ anymore. They prefer ‘bum’.”)

Spoofing an eminently spoof-worthy phenomenon requires a stronger sense of humour and greater certainty in the message. As it is, Unfrosted is handsome, but lacking bite and substance. In short, it’s a Pop Tart, all sugar and frosting, but any actual goodness is hard to find.

Unfrosted will be available to watch globally on Netflix from May 3, 2024.

Unfrosted: Trailer (Netflix)
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