The Movie Club

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

The Movie Club

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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
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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?

L'chaim,
Jessica

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