Quick, when was the last time you saw a killer comedy in a theater?
Think “Bridesmaids,” “The Hangover,” “Wedding Crashers” or even “Trainwreck.” They shared sight gags you wouldn’t dare describe to Grandma, but you laughed harder than you had in ages.
It’s been a while, right?
One of the men responsible for that raw comedy era, director Todd Phillips (“Road Trip,” “The Hangover” trilogy), ditched comedy for darker tales like 2019’s “Joker.” He says he got disheartened by the new woke bylaws ruling Hollywood.
He’s clearly not alone.
What’s undeniably missing? Those dude-bro comedies from roughly a decade ago. Think “Step Brothers,” “Old School” and most of Judd Apatow’s early work (like “Knocked Up”).
A look at two of that era’s films shows why the culture is weaker for their absence.
Both delivered big, bold laughs fused with insights into the male psyche. Those perspectives are no longer welcome in our “smash the patriarchy” times.
Let’s start with Phillips’ “Old School.” The 2003 romp earned $75 million during its theatrical run, but its cultural foot print proved much larger.
Just blurt out, “You my boy, Blue!” and watch for the reaction among friends.
The story follows three thirty-something men (Will Ferrell, Vince Vaughn and Luke Wilson) who start their own fraternity to relive their hedonistic past.
- Bedding ladies they may never see again
- Less than zero responsibilities
It’s what many men leave behind after college and before fatherhood beckons. For the “Old School” gang, their fraternity gives them one last chance at that lifestyle, and for a short while it’s … glorious.
Then, reality sets in.
Vaughn’s character realizes he’d rather stay faithful to his wife. Frank the Tank (AKA Ferrell’s buttoned-down character) learns his alter ego should remain in his rearview mirror. And Wilson’s “Godfather” never had his heart in the fraternity scheme in the first place.
Still, their fling with Frat Life 2.0 reveals how men cling to the past while inching toward the future. Sure, the characters behave badly, embarrass their loved ones and threaten their professional futures.
They also learn it’s time to grow up. Finally. And they’re at peace with the decision.
How … cathartic for every male in the theater (and for the women in their lives who have seen their own version of Frank the Tank in their spouses).
It’s the kind of story you wouldn’t dare pitch today, let alone snag a big studio to fund it. Too many straight white males flaunting their privilege. And where are the empowered females? No same-sex frat brothers?
You can feel the fun seeping out of the plot when you frame it that way.
And then there’s Apatow’s directorial debut, easily one of the funniest movies of the 21st century – 2005’s “The 40-Year-Old Virgin.”
Steve Carell co-wrote and stars as Andy, a Best Buy-style employee nursing an embarrassing secret. He’s still a virgin, something he confesses to his work chums and instantly regrets it.
What follows is a string of extremely funny set pieces (Leslie Mann and Elizabeth Banks, take several bows), killer sight gags and oodles of heart.
Andy doesn’t want to lose his virginity to just anyone. And, after some rude comic sequences (like the iconic waxing scene), his friends learn he had the right idea all along.
Once again, the male psyche gets a big, bawdy close up, warts and all. And men’s cave dweller impulses hit the bricks for a more evolved mindset.
Chances are the woke mob might enjoy those resolutions.
What’s ironic is that female-centric comedies face similar restrictions now. Amy Schumer built on her breakout hit, “Trainwreck,” with two films that spoke to the female condition.
“Snatched” featured plenty of mother-daughter bonding. “I Feel Pretty” commented on the insecurities many women endure about their looks.
Both lacked the big, bold laughs of the aforementioned films. And each got torched by woke critics.
You can’t win in our Cancel Culture age.
We’ve seen a few recent comedies tap into this dude-bro sentiment with middling results. Apatow himself delivered 2020’s “The King of Staten Island,” but it lacked the jaw-dropping laughs and soul of its predecessors. “King” star Pete Davidson explored that man-child evolution with “Big Time Adolescence.”
Is anyone quoting either film these days?
“The Climb,” which got caught up in the pandemic’s first wave, beautifully renders the male mind in all its complicated glory. It’s often quite funny, and often politically incorrect. Still, it’s tonally more thoughtful, less outrageous, than the films mentioned here.
We could use another Apatow-style comedy right about now, the kind he made before he assumed his new role as an officer in the Comedy Police. Or even a romp along the “Bridesmaids” lines, something unapologetic and rude with a soft, gooey center.
Chances are, a movie like that would rule the box office while sharing something profound in the process.