I still use, “there’s so much space for activities!” on a weekly basis.
I have a few heavy dramas and biopics lined up to review, so I thought that for this week’s Wayback Wednesday I’d look back at a movie that is the definition of silly fun. When I first saw Step Brothers (2008) in 2009, it was an experience like no other. At the time, I thought it was brilliant, hilarious, and one of the finest comedies ever put to film. Keep in mind, I was 12. Over the last 10 years and the dozen or so times I’ve re-watched it, I’m saddened to say that for me, the quality in humour has only declined. Don’t get me wrong, I still lose it at moments like the Catalina Wine Mixer and the “Sweet Child O’ Mine” carpool karaoke (we will TALK about it), but nowadays, Step Brothers leaves me going, “meh.”
Step Brothers follows Brennan and Dale, played by Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly respectively, two men in their forties who still live at home with their single parents. When Brennan’s mother Nancy marries Dale’s father Robert, the two families move in together, forcing the two men to become step brothers. What starts as a bitter sibling rivalry slowly softens into mutual admiration as it turns out the two men are greater friends than they are enemies.
This is the perfect role for Will Ferrell. No one plays man-child quite as successfully or convincingly as he does. Putting him in a movie where he’s essentially playing a 10-year-old? Alongside his longtime friend and co-star John C. Reilly? Directed by future Oscar-winner Adam McKay of Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004) and Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (2006) fame? Surely a recipe for success! For the most part, it is. The movie is decidedly at its best in the first act, where the majority of the humour comes from the hilarity of two grown men behaving and bickering like children. This may be a bold statement, but the way that Ferrell and Reilly play the emotionally-stunted Brennan and Dale, is genius. It would have been extremely easy to have them literally play the characters as children, unable to feed or even change themselves, but the movie does one better. Instead, Ferrell and Reilly play their characters as children with the skill set of adults, and having access to everything the adult world has to offer. It’s a fine distinction and Ferrell and Reilly play it masterfully. These characters must have been a dream to write for.
More than anything, the movie really reminds me of a loose collection of Saturday Night Live (1975 – present) sketches. I could totally see Brennan and Dale, the adult step brothers, as a recurring segment on the show, with each scene in the movie being a hilarious new sketch. The night they discover they share similar immature interests, the day they interview for jobs as a team, their therapy sessions…the two are a winning pair. Though they might have made a recent misstep, cough, Holmes & Watson (2018) cough, Ferrell and Reilly are comedy pros who shine brightly enough on their own, but are radiant when they’re together.
Joining them in the hilarity is simply put, a freaking dream cast: Kathryn Hahn, Mary Steenburgen, Richard Jenkins and Adam Scott. I LOVE this cast of supporting actors. I challenge you to find me a time when Kathryn Hahn has not been fantastic. I’ll wait. She steals the movie as the crude, unhinged, and unhappily married Alice, Brennan’s sister-in-law who develops a strong crush on Dale. I can’t lie: I burst out laughing every time she showed up. Steenburgen and Jenkins, as Nancy and Robert respectively, are cast perfectly. In a word, they are believable. Not only do they physically look related to Ferrell and Reilly, but they manage to display the helplessness and frustration of two parents at the end of their rope. Jenkins acts out the rage and stress that having two adult sons still living at home can cause, while Steenburgen plays the caring mother who knows that it’s time to let go but can’t cut the cord. These two are one of my favourite pairs of movie parents, right up there alongside Patricia Clarkson and Stanley Tucci in Easy A (2010). Which you can read my review for, here.
If Kathryn Hahn stole this movie, than Adam Scott was an accessory to theft. As Brennan’s douchebag brother Derek, he’s the king of demeaning insults, verbal abuse, and just all-around obnoxiousness. He’s terrible and awful, the kind of person you’d want to punch in the face immediately after meeting. For that reason, he’s so damn entertaining to watch. Adam Scott is one of those actors who’s able to play both ends of the spectrum flawlessly. One minute he’s the literal worst, and then, just a year later, he plays the sweet and lovable Ben Wyatt on Parks and Recreation (2009 – 2015). For me, being able to convincingly play both of those extremes is the mark of a talented actor. Okay, so the carpool karaoke scene. I don’t use this word lightly, but it’s iconic. When you think of Step Brothers, you think of that scene. From Derek treating it like they’re rehearsing for the Grammys, to the children’s over-eagerness, to Alice’s terrible voice, the scene tells us everything about this family we could possibly need to know. To this day, I can’t listen to “Sweet Child O’ Mine” without thinking about the Huff family or Step Brothers.
I can’t really explain it, but Step Brothers is the type of comedy that could have only existed in the mid 2000s and as a result, feels out of place today. To be frank, it doesn’t hold up. It’s still good for a chuckle or two, or to have on as background noise while you cook dinner, but it doesn’t require your full attention. That’s disappointing to me. I want a movie to command my full attention and make me incapable of turning away. In the beginning, Step Brothers manages to do that. The opening credits quickly and expertly set the tone and plot of the movie, and from there we jump into the satirical comedy of two adult men-children becoming step brothers. The movie is at its best when Brennan and Dale are on opposing sides and their relationship is full of clever and endearing comedy. After they become friends though, the movie goes downhill for me. It devolves into dumb frat-boy humour like fart and dog shit jokes. Look, I’m not above toilet humour. When done right, it can be pretty fucking funny. But knowing how creative and original the movie starts out, the dumbed-down humour becomes stupid and annoying.
I still enjoy Step Brothers. I just don’t think it’s hilarious anymore. Knowing now how strong the movie could have been is just too disappointing to me. Honestly, the next time I watch it, I might just watch up until they have dinner with Derek and Alice, and then just shut it off. Or better yet, I could just watch the carpool karaoke scene over and over again on a loop. That will never get old.
How do you feel about Step Brothers? Is it one of your favourites?
Let me know in the comments or on social media!