Canadian cinema is a wasteland of dad comedies, underdog hockey propaganda, and French art films that nobody watches outside Quebec. Like most things Canada produces, our movies ride that line between not-quite good and last-ten-years-of-Mike-Myers’-career bad. You can chalk our lack of quality films up to low budgets, flawed funding systems, and the exodus of any real talent to America. But then the question becomes where are our weird Canadian B-movies? The ones so bad we can simultaneously celebrate and lambast as cornerstones of our culture? If we’re not producing Palme D’or winning pictures, we at least deserve endlessly rewatchable cult classics. I’m convinced I’ve finally found one in Ryan’s Babe, a film wild, puzzling, and funny enough to claim Canada’s so-bad-it’s-good throne. Our nation’s daring response to The Room.
Directed by Ray Ramayya, starring Bill LeVasseur, and shot in Saskatoon, Ryan’s Babe was “released” in 2000 (predating The Room), but I’d never heard of it until last year. Apparently it played on Superchannel a few times and then sat on the director’s shelf for over a decade. There’s little information anywhere about the movie or its history. It’s so obscure it doesn’t even have a Wikipedia entry.
Ryan’s Babe was first brought to my attention by the popular YouTube film criticism group, RedLetterMedia, who reviewed it as part of their series examining deplorable B-movies, awarding the most entertaining ones the title “Best of the Worst.” Over the course of their discussion they describe Ryan’s Babe as a “classic boner road comedy,” “a little life changing,” and compare bad movie enthusiasts viewing it as the equivalent of “a scientist discovering a new lifeform.”
My girlfriend, Jenna, and I watch RedLetterMedia obsessively and a few months back I asked her which Best of the Worst movie she’d most want to watch? The answer came immediately, Ryan’s Babe. Thus began my search.
I tried to find it streaming online (legally and illegally) but no dice. Eventually, I tracked it down on DVD from Videonomicon, a distribution company that specializes in limited releases of “rare, lost, or forgotten films.” The story goes that Tyler Baptist, co-owner of Videonomicon, rescued an old screener VHS of Ryan’s Babe in a box marked for the cold Saskatoon dumpsters. Having watched it fresh off the garbage pile, he knew it needed to be seen by his fellow Canucks.
Videonomicon only printed 1,000 copies of Ryan’s Babe, so I snatched up this collector’s item and gifted it to Jenna for Christmas. We figured it would be best to subject our unassuming friends to a little taste of Canadiana during a drunken movie night. But no amount of mulled wine could have prepared us for what is billed as a “road-comedy-thriller,” whatever the fuck that means.
The movie opens as a man sexually assaults a woman in the woods. She’s implicated in a murder. He’s also her bodyguard. After an awkwardly staged tussle, she shoots him and escapes. Cut to Ryan driving down a highway and this woman runs out of the forest. She takes Ryan hostage, forcing him to drive her away at gunpoint.
Now, with a road movie you expect to find the protagonist at point A trying to get to point B, facing a series of mishaps, thus preventing them from their destination. Given this tried and true formula, one would assume that the rest of the movie follows these ill-fitting companions, their antics, and inevitable romance as this femme fatale becomes Ryan’s titular babe. But I quickly learned you can’t assume anything rational here because the woman releases Ryan five minutes later and you don’t see her ever again. Such begins the series of “plot” points so illogical that the rules of storytelling are stretched as wide as Goatse’s butthole.
If nothing else, the superfluous opening sets the bizarre tone for the rest of the movie, which then jumps into a flashback showing us Ryan’s past “lovers.” Then there’s a flashback within that flashback. Then a flashforward within that flashback. There is no stylistic distinction between the time periods, making it nearly impossible to know what’s going on. Among all this, however, comes the cherry on the shit sundae—a sozzled dad sporting the ultimate Canadian tuxedo, a shotgun, and the thickest of Saskatchewan accents tries to kill Ryan because his daughter attempted suicide to win his heart. Does any of this matter? No. Cut back to the present and Ryan is kidnapped by drug dealers in a case of mistaken identity.
I shit you not, all this only accounts for the first 35 minutes of runtime.
The movie continues, scene after scene of Ryan getting in trouble, but not as means to an end. Ryan isn’t trying to get anywhere or accomplish anything. Events just… happen and his reaction is never more than mere inconvenience. Just to offer a taste, over the course of the movie he’s roofied several times, becomes a Magic Mike-esque stripper (without the charisma or bod of Channing Tatum), wins the lottery, and gets attacked by cheerleaders who want to castrate him and suspend his severed cock above his head.
There was a point about 40 minutes in that I cracked. A gang member quotes Shakespeare (horribly overdubbed with a British accent) to Ryan while watching him take a piss. I felt like I was in that scene in Enter the Void, my soul leaving my body, transcending space and time. I felt like Ryan on an endless road trip to nowhere. Or I was just drunk enough to bask in what is among the most incompetent films ever put on celluloid. It was brilliant, rapturous and lobotomizing all at once. I laughed so hard I was in tears. I laughed so hard I thought I was going to throw up. I laughed so hard my friends were making IG stories of the bulging veins on my forehead. My fit died down eventually, but the rest of the movie continued to entrance us. Not a single scene ended without someone yelling, “What is going on?”
There are countless baffling moments throughout and I would say I’m not summarizing them to avoid spoilers, but really it’s because I can’t offer a coherent synopsis. Suffice it to say, by the end of the movie, neither myself nor any of my friends had any idea who Ryan’s babe was. And I haven’t even touched on the film’s constant farcical technical blunders.
I’m not the first person to compare Ryan’s Babe to The Room. Jay Bauman of RedLetterMedia said the director “comes from the same planet as Tommy Wiseau...come to Earth to make movies and they don’t know what the fuck they’re doing.” Canuxploitation.com described the film saying it “taps into the same unintentional comedy vein as Tommy Wiseau’s cult hit The Room.” It’s undeniable that Ryan’s Babe offers similar ignorance-is-bliss ineptitude (and misogyny) that Tommy Wiseau brought to his set. But even Wiseau’s opus has recognizable conventions that Ryan’s Babe lacks. Wiseau delivered a misguided attempt to make the great American movie, clearly aware of the tropes of the kind of story he wanted to tell.
Ramayya, however, strays from convention at every turn, not out of a Coen brothers-esque desire to break cliches, but rather because he seems unaware that tenets of storytelling exist at all. The result is a mirror image of the great Canadian road movie, which doesn’t exist. So, while it may not be worse than The Room, it is more bizarre and confounding. It’s clusterfuckery at its most enticing, made even more appealing for its lack of irony.
It’s precisely that unintentionality which is key to a great bad movie. A film is only as effective as how the director tells its story. For one to achieve so-bad-it’s-good status, it takes a blind incompetency that’s as rare as genius. That sense of “this had to be made by an alien” must be present, and Ramayya provides this with gusto. There’s heart put into it, and as such it transcends its badness and becomes entertaining. It births a charming absurdity that could never be captured by manufactured B-movies like Sharknado. And with that Ryan’s Babe greatest feat is escaping the middle of the road content that Canada loves to produce, breaking through the bottom of the barrel to offer something as inimitable as it is hilarious.
If The Room can garner crowds of people to toss plastic spoons at the screen, dress up as Tommy Wiseau, and yell quotes in unison at midnight screenings, I know Ryan’s Babe can inspire us to do the same. I long for the day I see a line of cinemasochists wearing their finest Canadian tuxedos, ready to toss maple leaf underwear at each other and shout “Where is Ryan now?” every time a scene changes in celebration of a truly great, truly terrible cult classic that we can proudly call Canadian.
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