(Over)Step Brothers

August 31, 2008 at 9:00 pm | Posted in movies | Leave a comment

Dale Doback: Can we turn our beds into bunk beds?
Brennan Huff: It will give us so much extra space in our room to do activities!
Dr. Robert Doback: You’re adults, you can do what you want.
Dale Doback: So… can we?

Step Brothers
AMC Stony Brook – August 21, 2008

After feeling pummeled from Henry Poole, I needed a comedy. Something light and frothy that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Choices were limited to Mamma Mia, Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2, or the following…

So I wandered my way over to the next theater to take in one of the final showings of Step Brothers, the latest comedy from the powerhouse comedy duo Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly. The theater undoubtedly was empty, as theaters tend to be at 2 pm on a Thursday, save for two I’m going to say early college, late high school age boys. Perfect, I thought. When will I ever get the chance to see a movie solely with a film’s target demographic? Score!

Adult children are becoming more and more prevalent in society, proven by the rise of adult activities previously reserved for children. The Nintendo kids have grown up and taken over the consumer marketplace. So it stands to reason that a plot line centered around two single parents with grown children falling in love, getting married and forcing said children to cohabitation could potential lead to situational comedy where the target audience can heavily relate. This film is an exploration into this phenomenon with a modicum of success. Watching the plot unfold, you realize what they were trying to do. Somehow it doesn’t quite translate here. Though I am not a psych major in community college, Freudian concepts like regression are not totally lost on me, and hopefully the viewing public. The idea that grown men in their 40’s behaving like three-year-olds can be attributed to a deep sense of scapegoating denial that causes a displacement of reality (Hey reality, where did you go?).

It is entirely possible that I am giving to much credit to the premise of the film, pondering whether or not this is a social commentary regarding the influx of struggling adults left with no option but to return to live in their parents’ homes. Nevertheless, it is an interesting and topical concept – particularly here on Long Island where young folks like myself can’t afford to live anywhere else in some cases. However, these characters/actors are a bit too old for this concept to truly work. In another review the point is made clear, “A punchline just doesn’t work as well when you know it before the joke is told.”

Let me go on record by saying that I love both of these actors. I have followed John C. Reilly ever since his hauntingly endearing performance in Magnolia and adored him in the movie-musical, Chicago. He has cornered the “lovable galumpf” market and I mean that as a compliment and credit to his craft. He’s got the chops to back up these incredible roles and yet lately his career seems to be focused more on the comedy track. (I tried to seek out Frank’s Book for video linkage, but was not successful… if you can find it, its a fantastic short film he stars in.) Walk Hard looked okay, but having not seen Walk the Line I decided to skip it. Apparently, another comedy he was in recently came and went in June that also looked kind of interesting, The Promotion. (guess now its a DVD Wednesday rental?) Their last endeavor together, Talladega Nights, is also one I missed. I look forward to see what he chooses next.

Will Ferrell was a beacon of hope for Saturday Night Live for many years, a show that has ceremoniously run itself into the ground and is dancing alone in its own grave. (Harsh, but am I right?) Ferrell is admittedly enjoyable in slapstick-oriented roles as seen in his various roles on SNL (my personal favorite is the male cheerleader alongside Cheri Oteri as the Rejected Spartans), or even a comic relief cameo or two such as Wedding Crashers and Zoolander. Though many have springboarded from said show onto successful movie careers, I believe Will Ferrell has just begun to show his range. He reveals great promise in roles like Harold Crick in Stranger than Fiction, a role that has been compared by many as his “Jim Carrey/Eternal Sunshine” comidrama transition: meaning a type of character which is comedic but ultimately rings true in a moving and dramatic way. However, the big question remains… will Will follow in the footsteps of his SNL alumni and fall victim to the lords of schtick humor? It’s unfortunately true that character actors have now diverged onto one of two distinct paths – to either be typecast or simply just sellout for repeated schtick. Movies like Semi-Pro appear to continue his standing tradition of the outrageously arrogant performance junkie seen in Blades of Glory. He is a great character actor and impressionist that it’s hard to say which path Will Ferrell will choose… So easily could he go the way of Chris Farley, Rob Schneider, or even Adam Sandler to a degree (who also took on more substantive roles, i.e. Punch Drunk Love). But even Jim Carrey knows the schtick game only plays for so long… sometimes it just gets old.

But anyway, back to this movie.

It seems that Reilly and Ferrell suffered from a bit of Affleck/Damon syndrome where they, along with director Adam McKay, wrote the concept and just could not imagine anyone but themselves in the title roles. If they had gone younger, let’s say 30-35 and cast someone like Jason Segel or Ashton Kutcher or even Reilly’s co-star on The Promotion Sean William Scott, the urgency of the situation might have come across with a little more humor. Think about it. A obnoxious man-child at Kutcher’s age would cause anyone to just look at him and say “Get the hell out of your parents house!” Realistically, most parents don’t tolerate their children living at home after the age of 25, and even then its pushing it. They wouldn’t continue to indulge, let alone enable their children to carry on that way. That’s what the teenage years are for, people! Parents forcing discipline enough to knock some sense into their kids not to act like whiny little brats.

One of the excuses given for how these living situations came to be proved realistic. Like Brennan, people lose their jobs all the time and are forced into temporary lodging with family members. In Dale’s case, we are led to believe that he never left the house at all. So the plot throws them together and the games begin, literally. The concept of 40-something males engaging in moronically immature competition is at times just too much to bare. They hit the ground running right from their meeting, where Dale introduces him as Dragon. Ferrell commented about the infamous drumkit in an interview on Reel Talk about the special kind of older brother who is insanely territorial about certain things. They will get in their brothers face and threaten mutilation and death if anyone goes near the object or the room it resides in. The oneupmanship is carried to the extreme throughout the film, until predictably they become best friends through their shared mentality. Even for sibling rivalry, it gets stretched beyond comprehension. The back and forth reparte was eventually becomes painful to watch.

Allison Bailes of Reel Talk proclaims them as a “power comedy duo like Laurel and Hardy except without the straight guy. They are both equally ridiculous and childish.” In response to acheiving new lows in juvenile comedy, John C. Reilly admits to not trying to “plummet the depths” and that ultimately it is a just comedy. Ferrell adds, “In a weird way, its a movie about being yourself.” Envitably, the story unfolds in the only way possible… they are tossed out on their asses, forcing them to take responsibility for their lives and they do. And what happens? The same father responsible for them claims that the new adult version is not truly who he is and is saddened by the hollow shell his son has become. They reclaim their collective dream and “save the day.” And we all learn something in an afterschool special kind of way. Ummm, no.

I did not laugh through most of this movie. Nor did the two boys in the theater with me. Does that say something? Who knows.

Recommendation: Maybe it was the mood I was in, but I was not having it. Still, I love and appreciate these actors and will continue to patron their movies.


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