The Movie Club

Can I Get Some Love for Step Brothers?
Critic vs. critic.
Jan. 7 2009 1:39 PM

The Movie Club


Dear everyone,

Jessica Winter Jessica Winter
Jeannette Catsoulis writes about film for the New York Times, Reverse Shot, and Las Vegas CityLife. Lisa Schwarzbaum is a movie critic at Entertainment Weekly. Dana Stevens is Slate's movie critic. Jessica Winter is the film critic and senior editor at O, the Oprah MagazineStephanie Zacharek is a senior writer and film critic for Salon.

So many excellent points have been raised that it's hard to touch on them all. To answer Dana's question about the overrating of Clint Eastwood: It's arguable that some of his more skeptical (re)viewers feel a certain deference to him, a willingness to give him the benefit of the doubt. I'll cop to feeling that filial piety myself, so I'll ration my Gran Torino commentary to these two cents: What's most exciting about the film is the resilient artistic endurance of an icon who could have rested on his laurels long ago but who keeps daring himself to make it new, for better or worse.

Anna Faris in The House Bunny.
Anna Faris in The House Bunny

Lisa has reminded me that I should have included Tropic Thunder on my list of waterworks moments—the opening mock trailers had me not only crying with laughter but also clutching arms with the equally hysterical total stranger sitting beside me. The comedy with the highest laughs-per-minute ratio this year, however, was also the sweetest: The House Bunny. I can't improve on Stephanie's sparkling review except to add that Anna Faris' ebullient spin on indefatigable generosity and good cheer is preferable to Mike Leigh's: more pragmatic and more fun. Dana, I share your ambivalence about Happy-Go-Lucky, partly because I had a hard time accepting the film on its own terms (a critic's Achilles' heel, I admit). Sally Hawkins is a fearless, vivid actress, yet I wanted her character not only to wield her battering-ram optimism for good but to come upon some pebble of self-awareness on her merry way—some clue that her relentlessly in-your-face positivity might make others, egad, unhappy.

Back to the year's comedies: I wasn't a fan of Forgetting Sarah Marshall. (Jason Segel's naked self-abnegation would have been more affecting if the rest of the movie hadn't surrounded him with nubile women eager to dress him up in their love and/or sex.) And somehow I doubt I have much company in advocating for the mostly maligned Step Brothers. Comedy is subjective, of course, but there's some feral pocket of my frontal lobes that wonders how it's possible to resist a movie in which the great Richard Jenkins (who gave one of the year's most tender performances in The Visitor) delivers a rousing speech about how he always wanted to be a dinosaur when he grew up. Or a comedy with a scrotum-on-the-drum-set fracas (marking the second time, after Boogie Nights, that John C. Reilly has appeared in a film featuring state-of-the-art prosthetic genitalia). Or that deploys "Ice Ice Baby" as a villain's ominous theme song. Or that contains a triumphant scene wherein grown men beat up children on a playground. Perhaps someone can talk me out of all this. Yet uneven as it is, Step Brothers strikes me not as the cynical nadir of the Judd Apatow-associated trend of manboy movies but as an imploded critique of said trend, and it thrums with anarchic, deranged energy. The same kind of energy, strange as it may sound, that Dana loved about The Last Mistress: I also adored that insane Eros-and-Thanatos desert sex tableau. And how about that gob-smacking moment when the incomparable Ms. Argento—who was just as memorable this year as the drug-running slut machine in Boarding Gate—sucks greedily at her lover's chest wound?

Speaking of horny vampires, we haven't yet talked about Let the Right One In, the Swedish anti-Twilight: an expressionist splatter canvas depicting the emotional and hormonal bombast of early adolescence with dark wit and heartfelt empathy. And we haven't delved into another awards-season favorite, Rachel Getting Married. I loved the catlike prowl of Declan Quinn's camerawork, Rosemarie DeWitt's slow-burn infuriation, and Anne Hathaway's bottomless eyes and her watch-through-your-fingers toast to the squirming couple. But is the movie's ability to make the viewer feel trapped at a never-ending wedding a feat of brilliant verisimilitude or a strike against it?




Smash and Grab

Will competitive Senate contests in Kansas and South Dakota lead to more late-breaking races in future elections?

Stop Panicking. America Is Now in Very Good Shape to Respond to the Ebola Crisis.

The 2014 Kansas City Royals Show the Value of Building a Mediocre Baseball Team

The GOP Won’t Win Any Black Votes With Its New “Willie Horton” Ad

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?


Forget Oculus Rift

This $25 cardboard box turns your phone into an incredibly fun virtual reality experience.

I Am 25. I Don’t Work at Facebook. My Doctors Want Me to Freeze My Eggs.

These Companies in Japan Are More Than 1,000 Years Old

  News & Politics
The World
Oct. 21 2014 11:40 AM The U.S. Has Spent $7 Billion Fighting the War on Drugs in Afghanistan. It Hasn’t Worked. 
Business Insider
Oct. 21 2014 11:27 AM There Is Now a Real-life Hoverboard You Can Preorder for $10,000
Oct. 21 2014 11:37 AM What Was It Like to Work at the Original Napster?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM I Am 25. I Don't Work at Facebook. My Doctors Want Me to Freeze My Eggs.
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 20 2014 7:15 AM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 9 A spoiler-filled discussion of "Flatline."
Brow Beat
Oct. 21 2014 11:34 AM Germans Really Are More Punctual. Just Ask Angela Merkel.
Future Tense
Oct. 21 2014 10:43 AM Social Networking Didn’t Start at Harvard It really began at a girls’ reform school.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Oct. 21 2014 7:00 AM Watch the Moon Eat the Sun: The Partial Solar Eclipse on Thursday, Oct. 23
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.