Films About Guys Who Can’t Grow Up

I saw Step Brothers earlier this week, and laughed a lot. It’s a film about two forty-year-olds (Will Ferrell and John C. Reilley) who act as if they are thirteen and bond over shared interests such as velociraptors and Cops. It’s a very funny, highly enjoyable film; but it’s also a very familiar film. How many of these R-rated “guys stuck in adolescence” films have we seen in the last ten years? Call it the “frat pack” or whatever you will, but the trend is hard to miss: films about guys hanging out with other guys and getting into all sorts of immature mischief.

The list of films is very long, and includes such hits as Wedding Crashers, Anchorman, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up, Dodgeball, and Superbad. These are films celebrating the R-rated, testosterone-fueled hijinks of man-boys who refuse to grow up.They are films that are immensely popular with mainly male audiences, but why? What is it about watching pathetic grown men acting like infants that we find so fun and appealing? (And I laugh too… certainly).

I suspect it has something to do with the larger trend of demasculization in culture that has taken place in the last few decades. After the first couple waves of feminism, the divorce boom in the 70s and 80s, and the pushing of all sorts of sexual boundaries in the 90s, gender has become a very confusing issue. Men have come out of this time the most damaged, it seems, with fewer and fewer father figures and role models to show them the right way to express adult masculinity. It’s only natural that film and television would express this confused identity in comedic form—historically the site of much of our collective working-out of contradiction and paradox.

I suppose the films of Adam McKay and Judd Apatow are popular not only because they are full of hilarious actors, but because they are giving voice to a large population of American males who feel stuck between an adulthood they aren’t prepared for and an adolescence that’s never felt completely comfortable. We don’t know quite what to think about masculine identity anymore, so the logical thing to do is just parody and laugh at it.

Top Ten Comedies of the Year

For whatever reason, comedies tend to get the shaft come awards season and year-end lists. But there is definitely something to be said for a great comedy film (it’s one of the hardest types of film to do well). Thus, in keeping with the listmania theme of December, here is my list of the ten best comedies of 2007.

10) Waitress: Keri Russell’s gleefully naïve piemaker was one of the funnier female comedic characters of the year.

9) Dan in Real Life: Peter Hedges’ romantic comedy gave Steve Carell a chance to tone it down a bit (even opposite Dane Cook), and the result was a solid, completely satisfying and sometimes hilarious film.

8) Enchanted: This film proved that Disney can do ironic self-referential comedy really well, though the real story is definitely Amy Adams, who gave one of the best comedic performances of the year as Princess Giselle.

7) Hot Fuzz: This British send-up of everything from buddycop action films and Bruckheimer-brand mayhem to Tony Scott-inspired quickcut absurdity was by far one of the most enjoyable comedies of the year.

6) Knocked Up: It was the year of Seth Rogan and Judd Apatow, and this was their crowning achievement. Rare is the film that wins over the elitist film critics, the populist frat of the land, and the occasional conservative Christian (for the pro-life undertones of the film).

5) Death at a Funeral: This great British ensemble pic turns one of culture's most sacred ceremonies into a circus of comedic insanity and fun British colloquialisms (“are you mental?”).

4) The Darjeeling Limited: Wes Anderson’s film was maybe not as funny as his others have been, but in its own weird “too cool for school” way, Darjeeling definitely packs in the subtle jokes and understated character humor.

3) My Best Friend: This little-scene French film had me smiling ear to ear from nearly the first frame to the last. It’s a joyous, innocent, hilarious buddy comedy with some pretty profound themes to boot.

2) Lars and the Real Girl: Not exactly a comedy in the proper sense, but some of its scenes are definitely among the year’s funniest. Ryan Gosling and Paul Schneider deliver simultaneously hilarious and heartbreaking performances in one of the best overall films of the year.

1) Juno: This pint-sized indie masterpiece is yard-for-yard the funniest film of the year, even when at its heart it might feel like a tragedy. It’s all about growing up—negotiating that awkward transition from childhood to adulthood, and Ellen Page (as Juno) makes the whole thing seem effortless and sweetly ridiculous.

Bonus: Top Five Guilty-Pleasure Movies of 2007

5) Beowulf: It may be an offense to the English majors in the room (myself included), but this motion-capture action epic is a whole lotta fun. “I… Am… Beowulf!”

4) The 300: By all means a ridiculous piece of techno-pop fluff (and “the new Braveheart” for Wild at Heart youth ministries everywhere) but this sword-and-sandal epic is undeniably a fun indulgence in cinematic excess.

3) The Mist: Stephen King is always good for some cheap thrills at the movies, and this is no different. The monsters are great, and Marcia Gay Harden plays a deliciously evil Christian fanatic (always fun!).

2) Live Free or Die Hard: Bruce Willis rocks it in this over-the-top action romp. It’s mostly brawn but does have some brain (unlike something like Transformers), and features vintage Bruce moments like the “Yippee Ka Yay (sound of gunshot).”

1) 28 Weeks Later, Planet Terror and Death Proof (tie): Nuance is nowhere to be found in this go-for-broke trio of zombie/musclecar/violent mayhem. Don’t miss the “helicopter as weapon of mass destruction” moment (in both 28 Weeks and Planet Terror) and the insane final car chase scene in Tarantino’s Death Proof.