What would it be like if two 40-year old men were able to act like they were about twelve years old, with a loosely written plot about chasing your dreams? Okay, doesn’t sound too funny. What if it was John C. Reilly and Will Ferrell playing the two brothers? Sounds more interesting, eh?
Written mainly by Reilly and Ferrell, and also starring Mary Steenburgen, Richard Jenkins and Adam Scott, this movie is, in a word, uneven.
Literally the first third is entertaining and manic, the middle part slows way down, bogged down with some requisite plot movement, and the closing takes it back to something satisfying and amusing.
Note: Not much of a plot spoiler follows. The gags are what make the film.
The plot involves two adults, Mary Steenburgen (Nancy) and Richard Jenkins (Robert), who have lost their spouses due to divorce or are widowed, who each are well educated, and each has a son that still lives at home and is not very bright. Steenburgen (Ferrell’s mom) also has a second son who is very successful, but annoying arrogant and downright nasty.
Robert is a well-employed and wealthy physician who spies Nancy during his presentation at a medical conference. They fall madly in love and get married. It’s then that they realize they both have the same slacker-son problems, though Nancy is much more kind-hearted toward her son, Brennan (Ferrell) than Robert is toward his son, Dale (Reilly). As noted, Brennan has a younger brother, Derek, played by Parks and Rec alumni Adam Scott.
The family moves in to Robert’s house, except for Derek, who is married and has two perfect kids, and a wife that he is driving crazy with his overbearing behavior. The two older kids (Ferrell and Reilly) first hate each other, but then after noticing how much they have in common, become friends. They search for jobs together and land nothing, and then decide to start their own entertainment organization. When the stress of raising the two adults causes Robert and Nancy to divorce, Brennan and Dale blame each other and go back to disliking each other. Ultimately the two “kids” are able to get decent jobs and meet again at a Catalina Wine Festival, and run into Nancy and Robert, who are also attending that festival.
If you’ve watched the vignettes at the end of Anchorman or Talladega Nights, you get an idea of the ad-libbed riffing that Reilly and Farrell are capable of. In fact, many of the scenes seem to be simple structures that allow the two men to throw comments at each other, and each time one-upping the next. There are incidents that are just odd, such as the neighborhood twelve-year-olds that antagonize Dale for some reason.
A few co-workers of The Monkey suggested this movie as one of the funniest they’ve ever seen. It coincidentally soon after popped up on Comedy Central, and was promptly DVR’d.
There are definitely very enjoyable moments as the plot is setup. As things start to go bad in the second act, the movie becomes a little mean spirited and the gags mostly misfire. In the final act, as everything starts to come together, and especially the ending, is done very well. The message is an odd one: pursue what makes you happy even if it’s ridiculous.
Not sure I’d watch the movie again and certainly not in my top twenty funniest films list, but if you haven’t seen it and have an evening to waste, worth renting it (or recording it from Comedy Central!)
So on a scale of one Prestige Worldwide to ten Cheesecake Factory drinks, the Monkey gives this a solid five. Only check it out if you don’t have other options.
Side note: conversely, this simian has just started watching the first season of “The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”, a Tina Fey co-written Netflix series. So far, much more worthy of watching that Stepbrothers. Watch for a review soon. Eeeep!