‘Role Models’ surprisingly poignant

Villanovan Editor

If “Role Models,” the latest entry into the canon of extremely crude but ultimately poignant comedies is any indication, then Judd Apatow, the producer behind movies like “Superbad” and “Knocked Up,” better start watching his back. It looks like his four-year monopoly over the genre is about to end. Like Apatow’s films, “Role Models” is filled with enough cursing to make Chris Rock blush while still developing a truly meaningful and emotionally authentic story. If that weren’t enough, it may also be the funniest movie of the year.Directed by David Wain in his first mainstream Hollywood picture, “Role Models” tells the story of two guys, Danny and Wheeler, who, although well into their 30s, have not outgrown the dead-end jobs they perform, going from high school to high school selling energy drinks that Danny describes as “poison.” While Wheeler enjoys the job, which allows him to keep up his hardcore partying, Danny is absolutely bitter about where his life has ended up. On a particularly bad day for Danny, the pair end up facing jail time after they attempt to re-possess their towed vehicle.Their lawyer, who also happens to be Danny’s ex-girlfriend, works a deal that allows them to avoid jail-time by serving 150 hours in a community service program, assisting Sturdy Wings, a big brother-little brother program. Given that they are there by necessity rather than by choice, they are assigned the two toughest kids in the program. There really is not enough praise that can be given to this movie, but the strongest aspects by far are the actors’ performances. Paul Rudd, relegated to supporting roles in past comedies, is given center stage here as Danny and uses the opportunity to prove what a truly fantastic comedic actor he is. He is a master of deadpan delivery, and his sarcastic comments and humorously pessimistic attitude on life are some highlights of the film. Some of the film’s most touching moments come from his relationship with his “little,” Augie, a nerdy teenager who retreats into a fantasy role-playing world to escape the stresses of his life. The growing friendship between the two is the heart of the movie, and Rudd handles the dramatic scenes later in the film with ease. No stranger to either dramatic or comedic roles, he blends the two seamlessly, making Danny a truly believable and sympathetic character.Seann William Scott, meanwhile, has come a long way since “American Pie.” While Wheeler is in many ways a grown-up version of the Stifler role he immortalized in those movies, he has learned a thing or two about depth. Wheeler is not the one-dimensional party boy that Stifler was, as is revealed in his growing relationship with his “little,” Ronnie.This depth highlights a major strength of the movie, differentiating it from other movies of its kind. While undeniably crude and offensive at times, “Role Models” cannot be dismissed as a dumb comedy like most Will Ferrell movies. At its heart, “Role Models” is an extremely poignant and believable coming-of-age story, not for the kids, but for Danny and Wheeler. Basically 30-year-old children at the start of the movie, spending time with their “littles” makes Danny and Wheeler realize the deficiencies in their lifestyles, and watching them evolve as characters is the most rewarding aspect of the movie.Much of the film’s success in this right is owed to an endlessly sharp and witty script by writer/director Wain, with help from Rudd, Ken Marino and Timothy Dowling. Normally a master of bizarre and absurdist humor, as in “The Ten” and his TV show “The State,” Wain shows here that he can handle character-based comedy equally well. The interactions between Danny and Wheeler and the juxtaposition of their outlooks on life, feel authentic, allowing for some great moments between the two. The chemistry between Rudd and Scott is terrific, amplifying the hilarity in Wain’s script. It is far from a two-man show, however. Terrific comedic performances are turned in by minor characters as well, notably Marino and Jane Lynch. Marino, a mainstay in Wain’s earlier films, is wonderfully creepy as Augie’s apathetic father. Lynch, playing the woman in charge of Sturdy Wings, offers some of the film’s most laugh-out-loud moments through her absolutely confounding diatribes against Danny and Wheeler. Great films, no matter what the genre, put their characters before any other aspect of the movie. Well-developed characters are the soul of a film, and while movies can still be funny and entertaining without them, they often lack the emotional resonance that raises them above the rest. Apatow has clearly mastered this form, and with “Role Models,” Wain proves that he can do it as well as, if not better than, him. Should this film reap the success it deserves, everyone involved can look forward to bright futures in Hollywood.