Male malaise sure had a banner year in 2006 at least as far as Hollywood was concerned. How many more times are we gonna have to sit through the same story about some supposedly endearing dude in his 20s or 30s whose quest to figure shit out exasperates everyone around him? And when I say "we," I’m implicating all y’all: The Break-Up made $114 million, and I’m guessing Vaughniston looky-loos shouldered only part of the blame.
While this brand of coming-of-age tale is nothing new even when the age in question is decidedly postcollegiate it’s never been so pervasive. Just rake your eyes over 2006’s top moneymakers: Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby; Failure to Launch; You, Me and Dupree; and thinly disguised variations on the theme like Cars animated, sure, but fronted by man-child extraordinaire Owen Wilson. Even Superman Returns featured an emotionally stunted hero on the verge of a quarter-life crisis. (As did 2005’s top earner, Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. Noooo!)
Needless to say, none of the above really resemble similarly themed works of years past say, The Graduate. These days, menfolk in the cinematic mainstream cultivate an I-don’t-wanna-grow-up attitude that’s less existential, more slothful. It’s a perfect match for a target audience that couldn’t care less about the war in Iraq but is willing to kill for a PlayStation 3. And while romantic comedies such as The Break-Up, Failure to Launch, and You, Me and Dupree are traditionally aimed at women, these particular films hit big because the male leads (Vince Vaughn, Matthew McConaughey, and Wilson again) were calcuutf8gly cast they’re the kind of dudes that dudes can enjoy. The masculine ideal has definitely shifted. Why be suave when you can be a slob?
Naturally, these films all feature a buzzkill chick (Jennifer Aniston, Sarah Jessica Parker, Kate Hudson, etc.) who marches in and snatches away the remote control. Parker’s Failure to Launch character has actually made a career out of tricking ne’er-do-wells to move out of their parents’ homes. (The only time a male-female relationship isn’t a central component in these films is when you move into Jackass: Number Two territory, which focuses on dude-dude relationships amid 2006’s other chic craze: good old-fashioned torture.) Notably, in You, Me and Dupree, Matt Dillon’s character newlywed, homeowner, tryin’ to get ahead at the office is majorly emasculated at every turn by both his father-in-law boss and, of course, best bud Wilson.
There are ways to make this arrested-development story line fresh and interesting: Shaun of the Dead did it with zombies; The 40-Year-Old Virgin did it with the genius of Steve Carell (and his man-o’-lantern). And there’s hope on the other end of the spectrum: comedies may be populated by 35-year-old juveniles, but a film like The Departed proves that men grappling with maturity isn’t a topic forever bound to fart jokes. But then, of course, there’s 2006’s most freakish exploration of the trend: Little Man, the tale of a guy who literally inhabits a baby’s body. A more succinct (or crasser or more stupidly funny) deconstruction of contemporary male-centric romantic comedies would be near impossible to find. *
CHERYL EDDY’S TOP 10
(1) Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (Larry Charles, US). Even if the whole movie were composed of that moment when Borat throws down his suitcase and the chicken lurking within gives out a sudden squawk, it would still be the funniest cinematic release of 2006. Possibly ever.
(2) The Host (Bong Joon-ho, South Korea). A politically conscious monster movie with bite, humor, quietly intense performances, and a lot of tentacles.
(3) The Descent (Neil Marshall, UK). A major leap forward for a young horror director who’s also a huge horror movie fan, this cave-set chiller with an outstanding (nearly all-female) cast melds Alien, The Shining, The Thing, Apocalypse Now, and Carrie.
(4) Half Nelson (Ryan Fleck, US). Proof that the American indie is still able to flourish without stooping to any clichés. Ryan Gosling’s heartbreaking lead performance is among the year’s standouts.
(5) Brick (Rian Johnson, US). High school hasn’t been this dark or exquisitely vernaculared since Heathers.
(6) Exiled (Johnny To, Hong Kong). Johnny To’s Sergio Leonebywayofthetriads spectacular wields gun fu, spaghetti western ‘tude, and a never-better Anthony Wong.
(7) Red Road (Andrea Arnold, UK/Denmark). If you caught Andrea Arnold’s Oscar-winning short, Wasp, you knew she was headed for greatness; the stark, stunning Red Road bears this out.
(8) Lady Vengeance (Park Chan-wook, South Korea). Yeah, I had this on my list last year. But since it finally emerged in San Francisco in 2006, it’s back and well worth a second mention.
(9) The Departed (Martin Scorsese, US). Sure, it’s got stars Leo’s great, Matt’s good, Jack’s a wee bit self-indulgent but the supporting players (Alec Baldwin, Martin Sheen, Vera Farmiga, and especially Mark Wahlberg) are what really buoy Scorsese’s stylish triumph.
(10) Naisu no Mori: The First Contact (Katsuhito Ishii, Hajime Ishimine, and Shunichiro Miki, Japan). I quote an imdb.com user: "This movie melted my mind!" Show me your dancing!