As low-key as it is original, Role Models
manages to deliver real laughs and heart thanks to a smart script and excellent performances. Somewhat disturbing, however, is the film’s comfort level with the idea of contributing to the delinquency of a minor. Yes, the R-rating restricts access to those under 17, but still this troubling moral blind-spot takes something away from a film that might have otherwise been a grand slam.
Danny Donahue (Paul Rudd) is thirty-five years old and after having spent ten-years seething in the quiet desperation of corporate America as a rep for overpriced energy drinks, snaps while he's out on the road with his partner Wheeler (Sean William Scott). And it’s no small *snap* either. It’s such a big snap that it’s only with the help of Danny’s lawyer/girlfriend Beth (Elizabeth Banks) that he and Wheeler are able to avoid prison by agreeing to 150 hours of community service.
With court order in hand, Danny and Wheeler become ”Bigs,” — Big Brothers for troubled children - who are called “Little’s.” Danny’s charge is Augie (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), a geeky loner with a terrible home life. His only pleasure is the escape from reality a medieval reenactment wargame called LAIRE offers. Wheeler has bigger problems. His “Little” is Ronnie (Bobb’e J. Thompson), a ten-year old with a mouth like Richard Pryor and even less respect for authority.
The emotional growth in store for our two protagonists will surprise no one, but what will keep your interest throughout are the many delightful twists and turns on the way. In that respect, the story does exactly what a story should: it delivers the expected in an unexpected way that makes perfect sense to both the world and characters we’ve gotten to know.
While the dialogue and situations earns Role Models
an R-rating, you can thank a winning low-key vibe and the lack of big, raunchy set-pieces for making the film much more accessible than the usual R-rated fare coming out these days. The comedy flows from character and plot as opposed to contrived situations and therefore this is a film which might enjoy a shelf life not unlike those 80’s comedies we’ve been watching forever.
As much as I wanted to completely give myself over to the story, watching the way in which Wheeler and young Ronnie’s relationship developed made that difficult. While it does yield some big laughs, a thirty-year old man trusted with a twelve year-old boy and palling around with him as though he’s just another guy to hurl the worst kind of language and sex-talk with is disturbing enough. That Wheeler is never taught that this is unacceptable — that Ronnie is never taught his own behavior is unacceptable — that the filmmakers seem to see no problem whatsoever with this kind of relationship — undercut much of the film’s warmth. You keep waiting for something or someone to step in and say, “Hey, this is sick. That’s a kid!” but no one does, and it’s a little, well, wrong.
Paul Rudd, one of The Judd Apatow Players, is really very good in what could be a breakout performance. Unlike, Bill Murray who always wants to let us in on the wry gag, Rudd’s weary melancholy is completely and refreshingly natural. He strips clean the sanguine romance of the sad sack and replaces it with a profound disappointment floating in a sea of bitterness. If Danny thinks of himself as a victim, he’s self aware enough to know he’s his own.
The film’s use of music is another high point, both in scoring and song choices. In the cinematography department, it’s not the best looking film; a little bright and cheap-looking, but the script’s good enough to compensate.
Nothing would be lost waiting for a DVD release but there aren’t many truly well-crafted film in theatres right now and if you can deal with a little illiteracy in the child rearing department I promise you’ll both laugh and be moved. At the very least Role Models
is a film I very much enjoyed and wanted to like even more. Discern what you can from that.