Monday, February 16, 2009

DVD REVIEW: STEP BROTHERS a fine addition to the family

There it was, hiding in plain sight at multiplexes all over the country. Plainly offering itself up to us with a brilliant one-sheet that aped innumerable family portraits. It tallied over $100 million at the U.S. box office last summer, but somehow failed to become part of the conversation, somehow came and went with a pouting whimper. Last night I saw it On Demand for a penny, and nearly laughed myself out of breath several times; I had to literally close my eyes to keep from hyperventilating at three points. Why in God’s name didn’t someone tell me that Step Brothers was the balls out funniest movie to come out in a long, long time?!

Like many, I’d grown tired of the Will Farrell formula after Talladega Nights. I skipped Blades of Glory and only saw Semi-Pro on Netflix long after it came out. Step Brothers escaped my notice entirely. The key to its greatness is Adam McKay, who directed Farrell’s two best films, Anchorman and Talladega Nights. McKay and Farrell working together seamlessly elevate the comic sensibility from the perfunctory to the absurd sublime, an escalating argument over a prized drum kit being one of the best examples.

For those who grew up with siblings (not just a brother or stepbrother), Step Brothers nails every childhood scuffle, dispute, resentment and bone of contention, from the cold-blooded dinner table stare-down to the territorial household turf wars, to the dad/mom likes me better routine. Anthropology students should watch this movie to study the male social rituals on display. The pairing of Farrell and John C. Reilly is arguably better than in Talladega Nights, as Reilly is Farrell’s equal here, and they are both offered free rein to explore and relive with comic brilliance the everyday psychoses of childhood trauma, while also poking not-too-subtle fun at the hipster/slacker “man-children” of today.

Mary Steenburgen is smoking hot as Farrell’s patient, loving MILF mom, and Richard Jenkins is fine doing the losing-his-patience Dad thing. But Kathryn Hahn is a revelation as Farrell’s underappreciated sister-in-law. I had never seen her in anything before but she definitely deserves showy parts in the future. She’s flat-out hilarious. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED for anyone who was ever a child.

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