Male oddballs, losers and underdogs have infiltrated mainstream movies.by Francine Stock / May 24, 2012 / Leave a comment
Published in June 2012 issue of Prospect Magazine
Time to grow up? Jordan Gelber and Donna Murphy in Dark Horse
In the 2008 comedy Step Brothers, oversized thirtysomething kids Will Ferrell and John C Reilly burst into the marital bedroom shared by their respective parents. Squirming with anticipation, they beg to turn their own twin beds into a bunk. Reluctant approval secured, they bound away. Seconds and a sickening crash later, a distraught Reilly reappears, wailing: “Those bunk beds were a terrible idea. Why did you let us do it?”
Over the past decade, cinema screens have been overrun with such characters—adult males in various stages of arrested development, often sitting at home in bedrooms festooned with posters and action toys. Step Brothers may be caricature but it’s revealing: from arthouse to multiplex man-children lead in films, from Steve Carell in The 40 Year-Old Virgin, to pretty much any character played by Ferrell or Ben Stiller, to the bachelor-party lost boys in The Hangover (which took $470 million worldwide) and Paul Giamatti’s toddler tantrums in the vineyards in Sideways. Even the recent Muppets film played with the oddity of a fully grown man (Jason Segel) preferring to hang out with toys rather than his cute romantic interest Amy Adams.
Now there are two more films in this mould. This May, Segel was back, this time as a 30 year old slacking in the basement of his mother’s house in Jeff, Who Lives at Home. In cinemas from 29th June Todd Solondz’s Dark Horse focuses on a plump mummy’s boy who hooks up with a depressed young woman who has returned home after a failed love affair.
So where do they come from, these adult adolescents? And what are they about? Dark Horse is a gentler variation on Solondz’s earlier films like the breakthrough Happiness (1998) which impressed and disgusted audiences in equal measure. Some critics claimed Happiness was simply an exercise in audience discomfort, like pulling on a hangnail. It sho…