Step Brothers

Posted on December 1, 2008 at 8:00 am

I have an idea for a movie comedy. A writer-director has a couple of huge hits and so all the Hollywood studio hacks descend on him adoringly. “Give us your ideas,” they tell him, “Anything at all! We’ll make a deal.” So, just to get them to stop pestering him and perhaps also to make a payment on his new boat, he tosses out whatever pops into his head or pulls out some ideas he scribbled in a notebook back when he was in college and they write a big check and then they make the movies.
I promise, that would be a lot funnier than the result of one of those ideas, which is what we have in the latest from Will Ferrell and Judd Apatow. This one would have to sit in the oven for a couple more hours to be considered half-baked. Despite the success of “Superbad” and “Knocked Up,” every movie about a childish boy-man who occasionally bawls “I love you man!” to his best friend is not entertaining.
As Will Ferrell gets older, the characters he plays get mentally younger. Here he is a 40-year-old man who lives with his mother and acts like he is 5. When his mother gets married to a man who also has a 40-year-old son living at home (John C. Reilly) the two of them instantly hate each other, then become devoted friends. It’s like “The Brady Bunch” crossed with “My Fair Brady” and a little bit of “Breaking Bonaduce.” Except not as good. Ferrell and director Adam McKay founded the acclaimed “Funny or Die” website. On this movie, I vote “die.”
Buddy movies generally work best when the characters have distinct personalities that create contrast and conflict. They don’t have to be likable but they do have to have some reason to get us on their side. But here the two emotionally and intellectually childish step brothers are so similar and so unappealing that we may not root for the (actual) child bullies who taunt and torture them but we can certainly see their point.


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Good Review of A Bad Film — Cynthia Fuchs on ‘Step Brothers’

Posted on August 1, 2008 at 9:35 am

I often say that when movies are good, critics are very, very good, but when movies are bad, they’re better. It is a challenge sometimes to write an interesting, meaningful review of a dumb comedy like Step Brothers. One of my favorite critics, Cynthia Fuchs, did just that with her review. She did not ask the film to be more than it aspired to be but respected what it was enough to engage with its aspirations and implications within its own terms.
Unable to intervene, ever-pert Nancy (Mary Steenburgen) is, in fact, this spectacle’s ideal audience, the girl who can’t fathom the anti-nuances of masculine ritual. Watching her man-children clobber each other to sweaty, gasping pulps, she’s reduced to abject impropriety… Apparently the only possible punchline for this going-nowhere-slowly scene, Nancy’s exclamation also makes clear the fundamental logic of Step Brothers. Demonstrating (and occasionally exaggerating) the lewd, brutal routines that make up the lengthy, much celebrated transition from boy to man in U.S. consumer culture, the movie has plenty of ground to cover. The fact that it’s ground often traversed in Ferrell’s movies and more recently, in co-producer Judd Apatow’s movies, doesn’t dampen anyone’s enthusiasm or inanity. Rather, the repetition seems to up the ante: how much more can be said, showed, or countenanced? How low can it go?
I love the way she says that films like this “simultaneously to ridicule and celebrate masculinity” and her comment on the role that the female characters play helped me to understand my own reaction:
While they surely ensure that the boys, for all their homoerotic/homophobic rites, are emphatically heterosexual, the women also provide the film’s necessary internal audience. Appalled by manifestations of male insecurities and aggressions, they embody those social, domesticating judgments that make such manifestations seem so wild and crazy. That is, the boys are most plainly appalling when the girls are appalled.

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