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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

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.”

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
  • Joseph

    I don’t get it. I’m pretty sure this movie doesn’t mean to do what you think it does, and the ones you castigated for doing that did. If you know what I mean.

  • MaryAnn

    Have you seen the film?

  • I have seen it, and it was pretty great for a lot of the reasons you mentioned. Unfortunately most of the best bits were in the trailers… but what can you do. They gotta get butts in seats. I just wish there was a way to do it without ruining the movie.

    Even so, I thought it was pretty hilarious.

  • Allen Darrah

    I wanted to like this, I expected to like this. But I couldn’t help but hear your voice in my head (strange, I know) watching it, so it’s interesting that you gave it the green. The trailer’s music made me think it was going to be more.. IFC and less 1990’s Adam Sandler. Sometimes I struggle with satire, admittedly, but I didn’t see as much of it here as you did. Mostly I saw a bunch of cheap jabs and jokes, up to and including a fart joke I was waiting for and a poop joke that proved the medium. I kept looking for Rob Schneider to poke his head through a window…

  • Henry

    I’m mostly with Allen on this one. For me, this movie was 3% genius (there are a few scenes that were so hysterical and perfect that I still randomly think of them and laugh, almost a week later), but that doesn’t cancel out the 97% stupid unfunny gross out gags, with a couple of antifeminist moments thrown in there for bad measure. I went hoping it was going to be satire, since John C. Reilly and Will Ferrell can be awesome when they want to, but I just didn’t see it that much here.

  • Ryan

    There were about two incredibly funny scenes in this movie…and the rest was a cross between Failure to Launch and ___ fart joke movie. I’m thinking perhaps you wanted to see more satire here than actually existed.

  • MaryAnn

    Yeah, I guess I was imagining things…

  • Accounting Ninja

    Well, isn’t this incredibly rich??

    When you rightly bash films passing for “comedy” these days, you get reamed a new asshole.

    But, if you happen to like another comedy, you still can’t win!!

    Only now, instead of being called a humorless feminist, you are now delusional, seeing merit where there is none.

  • Henry

    Whoa. I didn’t mean to suggest that MaryAnn was delusional. I was just saying that I didn’t see the satire. Not criticizing the reviewer (whom I would not bother reading if I thought she was an idiot), just trying to contribute to the discussion.

    Sorry if I offended you, MaryAnn.

  • Kristen

    I’m definitely in the camp that this is a weak comedy, especially when compared to the other Ferrel/McKay films. There’s no question that Ferrel and Reilly are very funny actors and make a great team.
    However, this movie is just one joke that runs on and on; and boy does it get old. The gags just don’t satisfy. Sure, there’s plenty of cheap jokes that reinforce their man-child persona’s but, where is the biting wit? the satire? It’s only catering to all the real life “man-children” sitting in the audience. And that’s fine, if that’s what you’re after.
    The parents are the real stars in the film, from their romantic beginnings to their “parenting” skills. There’s the real humor, regular people dealing with the ridiculous.

    and your response to your “criticism” (which was very kindly said by the way) -It would really benefit you to acquire tougher skin. A critic who can’t take criticism isn’t worth reading.

  • MaryAnn

    Oh for Christ’s sake, I can take criticism. But “I’m thinking perhaps you wanted to see more satire here than actually existed” is NOT criticism. Neither is “It’s only catering to all the real life ‘man-children’ sitting in the audience,” because — clearly — I’m not a man-child and I was catered to.

    Henry, I was not offended by your comment. I’m not even “offended” by Ryan or Kristen. I’m delighted to discuss a movie with those who disagree with me. I am NOT happy to discuss anything with anyone who will not at least give me the benefit of the doubt and assume that 1) I know what the hell is in my own mind, 2) I am aware of my biases to the point of making them perfectly plain on a regular basis, and 3) I have a thick enough skin to have been doing this for more than a decade, nasty, clueless comments from readers and all.

  • Accounting Ninja

    I didn’t think you were offended, Mary Ann. I know how thick your skin is. I’ve seen some of these boards.

    I just thought the “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” aspect was really funny.

  • MaryAnn

    Yes, it is funny. But not at all unexpected.

  • Kristen

    Well, I’ll be upfront and say I feel like a total ass -I was responding to Accounting Ninja’s comment, rather than MaryAnn’s. Can I blame that on not wearing glasses while reading the page? Probably not. My apologies-

    When I read that the comments above being described as “getting reamed a new asshole.” I just didn’t get it, as it seemed unnecessarily hostile.

    I didn’t mean my man-child comment to be offensively critical. I certainly feel that my inner-man-child was catered to, unfortunately the adult woman that I am was a bit disappointed.

  • Kristen

    not that adult women can’t enjoy this type of humor- ah hell…

  • Accounting Ninja

    Kristen, you obviously didn’t read the comment clearly. The “asshole reaming” wasn’t referring to you guys here, it was referring to when she bashes a popular comedy that everyone seems to love, like Knocked Up.

    Just go there and tell me there is no hostility.

  • JDora

    I kept checking back here when I initially saw Step Brothers under your upcoming releases with a little green light next to it. I thought, either the site has to be malfunctioning, or there’s a different movie called Step Brothers out there.

    Frankly, I’m thrilled I was wrong. I’ve been waiting absolutely AGES for a genuinely good casual comedy that doesn’t leave me feeling like the director has run up and farted in my face while giggling like a twelve year old. I didn’t hold out a whole lot of hope for this one, mainly because I hate Will Ferrell, but the thumbs up from you has given me pause. I doubt I’ll see it at the theater (unless it gets packaged with something else I really want to see at the drive-in), but I’ll certainly check it out On Demand when it’s available. I could use a laugh after sitting through Diary of the Dead, damnit.

    I don’t always agree with your opinion on every movie, but I do value it, so thanks for being objective.

  • MBI

    ” 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.””


    Full disclosure, I think “Step Brothers” was one of the worst movies I’ve seen all year. I actively hated myself for watching it — it’s not absurdist (save the fantasy sequences intercut with Ferrell’s singing performance), it’s just grotesque. You can only watch Will Ferrell rub a set of prop testicles on a drum set or a woman do a horrifying parody of sex on John C. Reilly’s nasty body before you begin to question your life. Mean-spirited, nasty, ugly, and it certainly doesn’t have the glorious freedom of “Anchorman.” Of the three Ferrell/McKay collaborations, this is the only one which has no style or directorial stamp on it.

    But regardless, I find this comment interesting. Yo made a similar point with “You, Me and Dupree” (another movie that sends me into a boiling rage). Presumably, your comment is directed at “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” and “Knocked Up,” both of which I liked but also have the highly highly HIGHLY questionable plot point of having the protagonists get rid of the childish things they enjoy so that they can grow up, as if real maturity is undermined by a He-Man action figure here and there. The squareness of those movies doesn’t sit well with me either, but I’m sure I don’t agree that Dupree/Step Brothers’ championing of obnoxiousness, irresponsibility, self-centeredness and in the case of Step Brothers mental retardation (tempered by a late half-assed stab at redemption) is any better.

  • MaryAnn

    I’m sure I don’t agree that Dupree/Step Brothers’ championing of obnoxiousness, irresponsibility, self-centeredness

    See, but it *doesn’t* champion those things, not that I can see. It holds them up for ridicule. Unlike many other similar movies of late, which hold up obnoxious, immature menchildren as something adorable, until suddenly they’re forced to change not because they realize they’re ready to move on with their lives but because *other people* (usually women) force them into it.

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