In Hollywood, the man-child is king
The movies are overrun with big babies. The trend started in earnest with "Meet the Parents" and "Meet the Fockers," and reached its pinnacle, one might have thought, with "Wedding Crashers."Skip to next paragraph
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As it turns out, this was only the beginning. Since then, we have been subjected to such films as "Failure to Launch," "The Break-Up," and just this week alone, "You, Me and Dupree" and "The Groomsmen."
All of these movies have in common a cast of 30-something male layabouts whose adolescence is way past its expiration date. (In this company, Steve Carell's 40-year-old virgin is practically a senior citizen.) Faced with domesticity, they retreat into the confines of beery buddyhood. In the movie's terms, these sad-sack Peter Pans don't know what's good for them – i.e. wife, kids, a steady job. Behavior that might have looked cute in their 20s now looks pathetic.
Let's start with the most recent culprit. The Dupree in "You, Me and Dupree" is Owen Wilson, who seems to have made a cottage industry playing gangly goof-offs. Dupree is best friend to Carl (Matt Dillon), whose brand-new marriage to Molly (Kate Hudson) is a setback to their buddyness.
Carl works for his condescending real-estate mogul father-in-law (Michael Douglas), while Dupree doesn't really work at all. Through a series of mishaps, he ends up living with Carl and Molly, camping out on their couch and rapidly turning the house into a kind of frat lounge.
As is true in all of these movies, women are both nurturers and wreckers. Molly is a grade-school teacher and doting wife of near-infinite patience. She is also the enemy to all those guys who haven't shucked off their inner satyr. (No wonder so few of these films are satisfyingly romantic.) Dupree represents the imp that Carl, newly married, is afraid to uncork. Carl broke the guy rules by finding a wife, and now he must pay. As Dupree, in all his innocence, proceeds to dismantle his friend's life, we are supposed to see that he does it with Carl's guilty complicity.
I don't mean to imply that this film is any good or that it contains an ounce of genuine insight. But as a template for the big-baby genre, it's invaluable. One of the genre's distinguishing features is that the babies, like the women in these films, serve a dual function. In the case of Dupree, he is possessed of a strange wisdom despite all the pratfalls and posturing. Deep down he knows his friend has a good thing going with Molly, and his hijinks are engineered to bring them closer. He's a nonconformist in the service of conformity.
This is what makes "You, Me and Dupree" such a conventional experience. There is never a hint of malice in Dupree's screw-ups, and when, quite accidentally, of course, he becomes a self-help guru, we are meant to accept his success without the slightest irony. No con artist, he.
"The Groomsmen," set in suburban New York, is a more serioso gloss on the same guy themes. Paulie (Edward Burns, who also wrote and directed) is getting married in a week to his pregnant fiancée Sue (Brittany Murphy). His four groomsmen come together for a final buddy-a-thon.
There's Paulie's troubled brother Jimbo (Donal Logue), who can't face his caring wife; cousin Mike (Jay Mohr), who lives with his father and pines for an old girlfriend; Dez (Matthew Lillard), happily married with two sons; and T.C. (John Leguizamo), who left mysteriously eight years ago.