Friday, May 12, 2006

You’ve got male

Romantic comedies catch new audience: guys

By Lisa Tolin
Associated Press

Forget the chick flick. It’s time for the metrosexual movie.

We’re not talking about those macho, action-packed manly movies that jam into your multiplex. No, these movies are filled with sensitive men, adolescents in 30-something bodies, men who go wobbly in the knees when they meet a foxy lady.

The Tribeca Film Festival played host to quite a few, but they’re just the latest in a rising tide of romantic comedies aimed squarely at men: “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” “Wedding Crashers,” “Hitch” and “Sideways” among them.

The protagonists are crude. Immature. Loutish, even.

But they might just have captured a moment in the zeitgeist, one that could toss romantic comedy queens Julia Roberts, Reese Witherspoon and Cameron Diaz out on their keisters.

“Hollywood is in one of those funks that historically it goes into every 20 years or so where the old formulas aren’t selling anymore,” says Dennis Bingham, who teaches film studies at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. “So there’s going to be a lot of experimentation: ‘Let’s try male-oriented romantic comedies and see if that works.’ ”

At Tribeca, there are some new additions to the growing genre. “The Groomsmen,” an Ed Burns film, tracks a Peter Pannish gang having one last blowout before Burns’ character gets hitched. They reunite their band, get stinkin’ drunk and shove each other a lot while grappling with serious issues such as sexuality, infertility and, of course, growing up.

The conceit of “Full Grown Men” is that the main character (Matt McGrath) is not one, at least mentally. He’s in his 30s with an insensitive brand of insouciance that translates into playing with action figures and insulting his best friend. When his wife asks how he plans to celebrate ruining the best thing that ever happened to him, he responds: “I’m going to Diggityland.”

And “Kettle of Fish” features a middle-aged lothario (Matthew Modine) who is just commitment-phobic enough to chase after a married woman while snubbing the single one in front of his face (Gina Gershon). It’s an old premise, but in recent years the romantic yearners have tended to be Meg Ryan or Sandra Bullock. The men were the supporting cast.

Don’t wanna grow up

“Full Grown Men” writer and director David Munro, 42, said he took inspiration from his own friends, who refused to cut their hair or otherwise conform to traditional notions of adulthood as they got older.

“If you look around you – and I was in advertising for several years before I went back to film school – so many commercials show men doing cannonballs into pools and show men driving their trucks up a mountain,” he says. “Even products like Converse sneakers, they sell to adults. I don’t think you would have caught my dad dead in sneakers.”

The films are tapping into a real feeling among 20- and 30-something men that growing up isn’t as easy as it looks.

Bingham, author of “Acting Male: Masculinities in the Films of James Stewart, Jack Nicholson, and Clint Eastwood,” points to the growing number of men living with their parents into early adulthood. And he notes that there are more women than men graduating from high school and going on to college.

“This is a much more serious era than 10 years ago, and I think men feel more pressure to grow up,” Bingham says. “We’re looking around and saying do we have a generation of men who are still in diapers?”

Diapers or no, the men still want sex (lots of it) and, eventually, love. But first, they’ve got work to do. Many of the films are born from the idea that “men are basically kind of uncivilized and feral and need to be gussied up and brought into the ways of polite society in order to attract a woman,” Bingham says.

Men and movies come of age

As much as the films reflect a moment in the culture, they might reflect the coming of age of American independent film.

With films such as “Clerks” in the 1990s, Kevin Smith helped usher in a batch of movies about 20-somethings and their angst. Now that those directors are in their 30s, they might be ready for an early mid-life crisis.

In movies such as Alexander Payne’s “Sideways,” men look around and realize their lives aren’t quite what they expected. They can either keep floundering or grow up and move on – usually with a little help from the love of a good woman.

As much as films such as “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” and “Wedding Crashers” revel in their laddish ways, the end message is the same: It’s better to grow up. Just not too much.

“Clearly our culture wants some kind of balance,” Bingham says. “People have to be grown up, but on the other hand we don’t want them to be so grown up that they just become drudges and automatons.”

Keeping a sense of whimsy and wonder needn’t undo the positive parts of adulthood: hard work, dedication and loyalty.

“It’s not an either-or thing,” Munro says. He identifies with his action-figure-loving main character: “I don’t have a G.I. Joe collection, but I kind of think they’re cool.”


  1. Wonderful...further proof that men really are the new woman. Where ever have all the Alpha Males gone????

  2. Carrie -> I'm right here, baby. ;)

    Any joking aside, I probably won't watch most of the movies mentioned. But of the ones I have watched (Hitch, in particular), I really enjoy them. I don't think I enjoy them because they are about men growing up, but because they are fun to watch.

    I don't know; it's a very good article but I think things like this might be over-analyzed. 40 Year Old Virgin? It's a funny concept, nothing more. Why sit the characters and the script on a psychologist's sofa to see what's going on underneath? Just laugh if you like it.

  3. Carrie: I'm here, too :-)

    Really, I'm with kris on this one. it's just a phase. The pendulum will swing back towards manlier men soon enough.

    Kris: Yeah, the writer did a little too much analysis on some of those movies. Like I was telling Carrie, these movies are just a phase and it'll pass.