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film criticism by maryann johanson | since 1997

Step Brothers (review)

Holy Santa Claus shit, it might be the smallest sign of the hint of a beginning of a reversal of our ongoing cultural apocalypse. Finally, here is a movie that satirizes the trend that’s all the rage now: men wallowing in adolescence through their 30s. This is special because half the other movies we’ve been assaulted with over the last few years have actually seemed to celebrate that horror (see: the oeuvre of Seth Rogen). Will Ferrell (Semi-Pro) and John C. Reilly (Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story) are, respectively, Brennan Huff and Dale Doback, pathetic losers who still bum around at home with, respectively, Mom Huff (Mary Steenburgen: Honeydripper) and Dad Doback (Richard Jenkins: The Kingdom), which is all fine and dandy until Mom Huff and Dad Doback marry each other, and then it’s like the Brady Bunch from hell as the “boys” have to learn how to get along (including sharing a bedroom). Here’s the unique thing about this funny, funny flick: it holds up Brennan and Dale as objects of ridicule of their own making, not just random schlubs we’re supposed to feel sorry for because they’re being subjected to ongoing onscreen humiliation — it wouldn’t be possible to humiliate Brennan and Dale, in fact, because they have no shame. (The totally unself-conscious performances by the two leads are terrific, but that the rest of the movie isn’t fighting them is what makes it all work.) Even better: the movie holds up Mom Huff and Dad Doback as objects of ridicule for allowing their “children” to get away with this nonsense. But wait, it’s even better still! Step Brothers, written by Ferrell and Reilly and director Adam McKay (reteaming up after Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby), achieves the rare feat maintaining its absurdist tone — which features a hilarious sleepwalking scene, jokes about Shark Week that actually work, and some of the funniest screen kisses I’ve ever seen — while also scuffing up some genuine sympathy for its antiheroes and recognizing that there is a middle ground between endless adolescence and a joyless, conformist version of “maturity.”


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MPAA: rated R for crude and sexual content, and pervasive language

viewed at a semipublic screening with an audience of critics and ordinary moviegoers

official site | IMDb

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