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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

Role Models (review)

Token Nerd

There’s something sad and pathetic about a movie character with more dignity and self-respect for himself than for the movie he’s in has for him. He’s like a cold and bedraggled puppy lured in from the rain who gets kicked in the teeth while he’s warming himself by the fire. Such is the fate of Role Model’s Augie Farks, played by Christopher Mintz-Plasse, who suffered much the same fate in his debut in Superbad. Here, once again, he’s a charming dork who is, for the most part, pretty self-confident and okay with his weirdness, which should be a thing to celebrate unreservedly, but here he is granted only grudging approval, and that only after suffering much abuse for the “entertainment” of the audience, who are really in no position to be laughing at him at all.
There’s something crude and unkind about a movie that refuses to grant this charming dork the position of minor hero he deserves… even after it hands him the nominal title. It’s a strange and confused kind of hypocrisy at play here, for by the time Role Models comes to realize that, hey, Augie’s pretty cool, in his own weird way, it’s too late. Augie’s weird-coolness is now useful only in so much as it serves to wake up the flick’s putative hero to his own lack of enjoyment of life. In the same way that a single clichéd spiritually aware black character is acceptable on film only as far as he or she serves to spiritually enlighten a white person, Augie is acceptable here only as long as he is useful, spiritually, to the “normal” guy whom the audience is presumably meant to identify with. Augie is the token nerd.

Oh, to be sure, Role Models is that usual Frankensteinien assemblage of tittering about bodily fluids, casual homophobia, random emotionless sex acts, and other such expressions of apparently unoutgrowable male adolescent anxiety that passes for American comedy these days. (Did it really take four highly paid Hollywood writers, including director David Wain and star Paul Rudd, to “invent” this stuff? One 12-year-old boy could have done it for free.) But it has ambitions of being more than that. It wants to be, you know, meaningful, about thirtysomething GenX ennui, but it can’t even see the nose in front of its face.

We have Danny, see, 35 years old and miserable with his life. He works for an energy-drink company “selling poison to our nation’s youth,” he moans, as he and his coworker Wheeler spend their days pushing Minotaur, a vile concoction that costs six bucks a can, on schoolchildren. In their schools. That this could be something for a teenager to rebel against — this culture in which going to school makes you a captive audience for corporations to push their poison on you, with the willing cooperation of your school — appears to be lost on the movie. It’s only something for Danny, with his inarticulate rage, to rebel against.

So Danny — played by Rudd (Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Over Her Dead Body), though his usual charm is mostly wasted here — snaps one day, and he and Wheeler (Seann William Scott [The Dukes of Hazzard, The Rundown], still without any charm of his own) end up with a string of petty legal offences that add up to 30 days in jail. Or else they can do 150 hours of community service, which they shall serve in a Big Brother-type program. I shan’t even go into the issue of teaming up unwilling and clearly unsuitable adults — to borrow a phrase from Zack and Miri Make a Porno, I’m pretty sure Wheeler is legally retarded — with impressionable and supposedly at-risk kids; that’s a whole other rant.

No, the thing that pisses me off most about Role Models is that we’re meant to identify with Danny, who, at 35, is a blank slate. He has no friends — Wheeler is just a coworker, and they clearly can’t stand each other — and no apparent interests in anything whatsoever. There appears to be no genuine connection — that is, one not required by the plot — between him and his girlfriend (Elizabeth Banks: W., Zack and Miri Make a Porno), who just broke up with him without ever offering us any clue as to what she saw in him in the first place. Danny is a complete nonentity, and we’re meant to feel sorry for him. He’s meant to be a model of “normality,” but the movie doesn’t realize that there might be something wrong with that.

Oh, it pretends to get it, but not till the last 20 minutes of the movie, and then it’s too late. See, Augie, the kid Danny is supposed to be mentoring, is into live-action role-playing: you know, where people with imagination dress up like knights or elves or wizards or whatever and escape for a little while from a world where pushing poison — a poison with a fantastical name borrowed from the very same mythology, it must be noted — on kids is an acceptable thing. And after an hour of the movie dumping on Augie for being a freaky weirdo who wears a cape and swings an aluminum foil-covered foam sword, someone who doesn’t deserve the kind of respect that the movie apparently believes that, say, Wheeler deserves — even though his only talent is an ability to get random “hot” women into bed with him at a moment’s notice — suddenly the movie gets it. Augie’s okay after all.

“Hey, sorry, kid, for treating you like garbage all along,” the movie seems to say, “but we’re okay now, right?”


MPAA: rated R for crude and sexual content, strong language and nudity

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

official site | IMDb | trailer
  • Chris


  • This same argument is why I loved the original “Revenge of the Nerds” and dread it eventual remake (and every one of its awful sequels).

    In ROTN the Nerds are fine. They know they are fine. They get it (and the movie gets it) that they are going to be okay and that it does not pander to the idea that the world will accept who they are or that it will eventually realize that they are as “normal” as any of the other freaks that occupy the world.

    Just for a brief shining moment do they manage to make that point known. And then the status quo is returned to its usual picking on the nerds normalcy.

    I hate films that try to point out that the “marginal” points of society – whether they are LARPers or MMRPGers or Mall Rats (okay, Smith did that okay – he knows where I’m coming from) – are going to be normal by any point of view but their own.

    Any film that tries to “fix” a marginal character to make him fit in to a specified group is wrong. Dead wrong.

  • Tyler

    Your reviews suck. This movie isn’t in any way intended for people like yourself, so why you wasted your time on it is beyond me. Stick to the “good” movies such as The King and I, The Notebook, etc. I’m sure those will be lots of fun for you.

  • JoshB


  • MaryAnn

    *snort* Tyler thinks *The Notebook* is a good movie. *snort*

  • Mathias

    MaryAnne, it’s very obvious that you don’t find humiliation funny. It’s why you bearly like 40 yr old virgin, why you didn’t like Forgetting Sarah Marshall or Meet The Fockers (All films that enjoyed wide critical acclaim). Most filmgoers, critics, filmmakers would disagree with this.

    And i think you’re way off base with the character of Augie in this film. Sure everyone made fun of him at first, why would you expect anything else? In the real world, a kid who’s that into fantasy role playing will get mocked mercilessly so i expect the film to reflect that. I’m sure high school was a nightmare for him in the film or if he existed in real life.

    And i disagree with you on the end. I think the movie did a great job of showing that there’s a lot to love about the kid and his actions on the battlefield. It’s obvious that most of the jokes against him were made in ignorance before Danny or the audience got to know him so they weren’t really making fun of him rather than the stereotype of the ultra-nerdy kid.

  • Martin

    Humiliation is funny?


    Better give all those school yard bullies a comedy award then…

  • MaryAnn

    I’m delighted that it’s obvious that I don’t find humiliation funny.

    Sure everyone made fun of him at first, why would you expect anything else?


  • MBI

    Humiliation is, and will always be, funny. When the victim doesn’t deserve it that it becomes uncomfortable.

  • JoshB

    Actually, it’s when the victim doesn’t deserve it that humiliation is most funny. It’s the Sideshow Bob law: It’s only funny if the sap’s got dignity.

  • Sideshow Bob’s humiliation isn’t funny because he’s got dignity. It’s funny because he acts in such a way that even the most liberal person would applaud his eventual punishment. It’s the old “biter bit” or “giving the bully a taste of his own medicine” routine.

    One of the reasons Groucho Marx and Rowlin Atkinson are so funny is because they’re usually smart enough to aim their worst insults at deserving targets, ie, people who are so aggressive or pompous that even the most liberal audience really wants to see them taken down a peg or two.

    One of the reasons so many 21st century comedies seem so lame by comparision is undoubtedly because they aim their worst insults at undeserving targets. Thus when the snotty fratboy or snobbish sorority girl gets humiliated, it’s funny. When a
    more likeable person gets humiliated, it’s not so funny.

    Granted, there are a lot of classic comedies like Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times that seem to be based on humiliation. But even then not every scene is based on the idea that humiliating Chaplin and the other working stiffs is funny. And most of the humor is ultimately aimed at ridiculing the type of fools who make Chaplin’s life in that movie so hellish, not Chaplin himself.

  • JoshB

    Oh Tonio. You must study your Simpsons!

    “It’s only funny if the sap’s got dignity” is how Krusty explains to Cecil Terwilliger why it’s funny when Bob gets a pie to the face but not when Cecil does.

  • Accounting Ninja

    I don’t think the Sideshow Bob example is the best one…in The Simpsons, Krusty is depicted as always sinking to the lowest common denominator and he is the embodiment of all that is crappy about television. The fact that the audience guffawed at Bob’s inadvertent humiliation in that scene I think was making fun of American audiences who would do this.

    That was my interpretation of the scene.

  • humiliation of a character is only funny when he/she/it has set themselves up for it by their hubris and arrogance and bring about their own downfall. examples: Basil Fawlty. Daffy Duck.

  • Jerry Colvin

    All I know is that Jane Lynch is hilarious in this movie and helps make up for its shortcomings.

  • shoop

    To paraphrase some regulars on this site, if you don’t want to be laughed at, don’t wear such funny clothes or speak in such a funny middle-english patois. That said, I think the genius-brilliant element of this movie is that the joke is only on Augie twice in this movie–when the Paul Rudd character first spots him, and when the obscene, motor-mouthed 10-year-old rags on him at the Chuck E. Cheese-style restaurant. After that, it’s very clear that those who laugh at Augie (particularly his mom and stepdad) are in the wrong, and we in the audience who got a few chuckles out of Augie’s role playing are invited and encouraged to see that. In the meantime, the movie scores some very valid points about the nature of geek communities (yes, including this one). Such communities are places where geeky imagination is encouraged and supported–but also, significantly, where some geeks experience the very real pleasure of being bullies (for example, the King in Augie’s fantasy world).

  • Chris

    Dear Mary Ann,

    This is not Schindler’s List, it’s a comedy. There is no deep underlining message. It should be reviewed based on the quality of jokes, which the whole theater was laughing during my showing, and the ability to hold together a simple story, which it does. . All in all this is an entertaining movie and that shows to me that unless the movie is directed by someone you clearly enjoy from your generation (Kevin Smith) you will never give any movie like this a fair shot (Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Superbad, Pineapple Express, Knocked Up). Why not just pull an Ebert and only review the first 8 minutes because that seems to be all you ever need for these films.

  • MaryAnn

    *Schindler’s List*? What on Earth are you talking about, Chris?

    You are correct, though: I only enjoy movies I enjoy. I’m funny that way.

  • Chris

    My point is Mary Ann is that you breakdown the subcontext of these movies way too much and then you refused to do it with Zach and Miri which was just as crude as FSM, Knocked Up, Superbad, and Pineapple Express. I dont give two cents that they make fun of a kid liking live action role playing. To anyone not familar with the subject it is funny to experience and to anyone who is familar with the subject it is nice to see someone find what is funny about it. The point though is that at the end of the day the film does state that there is nothing wrong with people who play live action role playing and that parents shouldnt try to shun there kids away from it. The difference is that I can tell that its a comedy, not a drama so we do not need a two act explaniation of how the main character becomes better and how he breaks it down to his “little” that its ok to be different. For me a camp fire scene where the main character opens up to the kid, a scene where the main character calls out the parents for oppressing there child’s creative talents, and a scene where the main character and his friends come to the kid’s aid in order to help him carry out his dream of being recognized as a great player of live action role playing are enough for me in a comedy. The jokes are what matter and seeing Paul Rudd dressed as Starchild with a sword works great for a comic gag. Not to mention the crack at people trying to play guitar, the overbearing g rated big brother, and Paul Rudd being constantly compared to Ben Affleck. That and it’s nice to see memebers of the State reunite for something.

  • MaryAnn

    I dont give two cents that they make fun of a kid liking live action role playing.

    That is plain.

    at the end of the day the film does state that there is nothing wrong with people who play live action role playing

    Sure. As I noted. But it does that after an hour of implying that there IS something wrong with it. As you yourself admit.

    I absolutely DID discuss the subtext of *Zack and Miri.* You’re simply mistaken in thinking that my problem here is with crudity, and not with what is done with that crudity.

  • Chris

    At no point did Paul Rudd in this film turn to the kid and say you shouldnt do this. About the only thing he ever did in critism was to say hey, it might not be smart for you to keep your wardrobe in the real world. Like I said before, I dont need two acts of change. It’s a comedy. It’s no different in resolution than Revenge of the Nerds.

    Debating the subject crudity in a movie is like debating John Wayne’s philosophy of not shooting a man in the back with Clint Eastwood. One is noble, one is a lot more realistic…

  • MaryAnn

    No, Paul Rudd never did that. It doesn’t mean that *the film itself* doesn’t take a perspective that “dorks are funny and deserve to be ridiculed by people who think they’re better than that.”

  • Chris

    So did Revenge of the Nerds!

  • This review is awful.

  • Tom L.

    Agreed. Shameful that some people can’t take humor for humor’s sake. Just because something is in a niche doesn’t mean it’s not ridiculous, and for a shoestring plot in a raunchy comedy, devoting a third of the movie to the idea that “LARPing is okay! Do your own thing, no matter your age!” is commendable, not disgusting.

  • shoop

    While I mostly agree with you, Tom, I think “shameful” is a bit harsh. At worst, I’d say there’s a certain hypersensitivity at work concerning any and all perceived slights against dorkdom. Offhand, I can’t think of any dork-centric movies that stray from that pattern–we laugh at the dorks because, well, they’re dorks, and then they prove themselves valuable and “cool”–“Revenge of the Nerds,” “Galaxy Quest,” and even “Ghost World” fit the mold.

  • MaryAnn

    Shameful that some people can’t take humor for humor’s sake.

    Ah. You think that everyone shares the same sense of humor, everyone finds the same things funny… Interesting. Perhaps that explains why so many people seem to find it funny that some other people aren’t like them: they don’t understand that people can be different from one another, and that that’s normal.

  • shoop

    I think one also has to consider where the mockery is coming from–in this case, from groups of people who are, arguably, even bigger dorks than LARPers, that is, people who perform in sketch groups and long-form improv (veterans of “The State” and “Upright Citizens Brigade”). I’d submit that it is mockery done with knowledge and affection, from dork to dork. An analogous form of entertainment would be Alison Bechdel’s “Dykes to Watch Out For”–Bechdel has no end of fun at the expense of her cast of crunchy-granola, touchy-feely, Bush Sr.-hating lesbians, but she clearly loves her characters (and IS one of her characters) as well. Oh, and another film to add to the “laugh at the dorks before we root for the dorks” list–“Mystery Men,” which I personally found nearly laugh-free, but a lot of folks seem to like it.

  • Oh, and another film to add to the “laugh at the dorks before we root for the dorks” list–“Mystery Men,” which I personally found nearly laugh-free, but a lot of folks seem to like it.

    I was beginning to think I was the only regular visitor to this site who felt that way. About the “laugh-free” part, that is, not the “seem to like it” part.

  • shoop

    No, Tonio, there’s at least one other person who suffered from thwarted comic expectations. William H. Macy made me laugh once, when he said something about shoveling. But other than that… I just remember the viewing experience as singularly bleak.

    What was this thread originally about, again…?

  • Tyler

    I don’t know if you’ll ever read this since this is such an old review, but I really liked this movie, and I don’t think the movie makes fun of Augie for liking LARP. Having seen it several times, I’m not sure which parts of the movie you’d say condescend to Augie.

    Early in the movie, Paul Rudd tries to suggest that Augie ditch the cape, and Augie replies that he knows he’s in a fantasy world, but he enjoys it all the same. Paul Rudd’s character accepts this answer and never questions him about it again. Wheeler never makes fun of Augie, aside from the Quidditch line right after meeting him, neither does Rudd.

    There are certainly reasons to dislike this movie, as there are for any movie, but I don’t think in the case of Role Models that condescension towards Augie is one of them. Mintz-Plasse’s performance rings true to the friends that I have that are interested in these things, walking the right line between awareness and nerdiness, and I don’t feel like the movie tries to twist that into a strike against the character.

  • Kenny

    Yup, this is just MaryAnn’s sometimes hyper-sensitive nerd sensibilities gone arwy. Like that black guy’s hyper-sensitivity to any imagined attack on his race in Zack and Miri Make A Porno.

    I find it amazing that she completely overlooks how the movie really makes you cheer Augie on for the majority of the film’s runtime.

    But i guess when you offend a nerd, there’s just no going back in MaryAnn’s book, no matter however admirable your actions to redeem yourself later on.

  • winky

    I love reading through scathing blog reviews only to be asked if I would like to buy the movie on Amazon. It just goes to show; if you make a living off of somthing it doesn’t really make you a professional.

    I have to agree with the two above posts. In the end this movie is neither “crude” nor “unkind” to Augie Farx.

    Paul Rudd and David Wain based LAIRE off the documentary DARKON (highly reccomended). After getting to know some of the people who ‘LARP’ for real (only, dont call it LARP in front of them) they expanded the original script to include the sub-culture of weekend warriors. The movie is generally accepted by darkon/dagorhir/belegrath fans as a faithful, light-hearted portrayel of the sport. Most if not all members of these groups accept that what they do for fun isn’t mainstream, and extreemly odd. Everyone I have met in the hobby can stop talking about this movie and what it has done for the sport.

    The last thing we hobbiests need is some matriarch claiming we need to be defended in the public forum, it embarassing.

    You could have saved yourself some time and just summed it up as. “I am uncomfortable with insults, therefore I dont like most comedy.” “Dont watch this movie”

  • MaryAnn

    Geez, this is what I get for coming to the defense of my peeps. Maybe I should leave you all to fend for yourselves, nerds.

    I love reading through scathing blog reviews only to be asked if I would like to buy the movie on Amazon. It just goes to show; if you make a living off of somthing it doesn’t really make you a professional.

    Amazon links make one unprofessional? Interesting perspective…

  • Winky

    Ouch, sorry. My irony and sarcasm didn’t come through on that first bit. I didnt mean to single you out, most film critics have an amazon auto-rotator ad somewhere on thier page, so they all end up bashing some ‘unworthy’ movie and advertising it on the same page.

    It is equivalent to writing “Nike is the worst name-brand shoe ever” BUT “here is a place where you can and should buy some of thier crap”. This SEEMS unprofessional to me. I am aware that you probably have nothing to do with what amazon sticks in those adspaces.

    I really do enjoy (most of) your reviews. Besides your aversion to “judd crew” movies our tastes in film are quite similar.

  • MaryAnn

    No, I deliberately put links to purchase the movies I review once they’re available on DVD. I don’t see it as any more unprofessional than running ads on the site.

    If you’d like to buy a movie and you appreciate my review — even if you disagree with it — it’s a nice way to acknowledge that by clicking through from my site to buy the movie. It doesn’t cost you anything more, but it does put a few cents in my pocket. And since this site is free, here’s one way you can pay for it without actually paying anything at all.

    But if that feels unethical to you, you can choose not to click through to Amazon from this site.

  • Accounting Ninja

    @Winky: to me, MAJ placing links to buy for all movies, not just ones she likes, is a mark of professionalism. It could be seen as childish if she heralded only some and not others (and it could cost her support in the long run), plus it would be a pain for her: How would she rate a “yellow” movie she neither loved nor hated? Link or no link? What about accounting for changed tastes over the years? Maybe she’d have to retroactively add links or take away? No, better to just have the links up, for everyone.
    Poor “Sinful Dwarf” needs a fair shake just like everyone else. :P

    I also find it intellectually honest. We come here to read her musings, but it is never telling anyone what to think. All of us are free to make up our own minds. That’s a win in my book.

  • Winky

    Ah, I was under the impression that the ads were on a rotator like those you would get through blogster, the type that take keywords from the page and slap and applicable ad down.

    After working for an independant (pen and ink) news paper, I guess I just take ads a bit more seriously than most. You can imagine the amount of thought that goes into which organic co-op to advertise for in a liberal college town (and the outrage that follows when said co-op is found to sell pepsi)

    Anyway, back on topic…
    Give ‘Darkon’ a chance. I’d love you hear your opinion of it!

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