Thursday, January 7, 2010

Maggie's Films of 2010, January 6:

#10. The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard

I know the obvious contrast I should be drawing is between this film and Up in the Air, since the latter is a drama about a professional firer who avoids long-term connections, and the former is a comedy about a professional "hired gun" for car sales who avoids the same. But I can't. From the moment it sunk in that this film has a literal man-child (a ten-year-old with a pituitary condition that makes him look thirty) among its main characters, I couldn't stop marvelling at how aptly and thoroughly this film tackles the very essence of the Man Child Phenomenon.

At first I thought it was unintentional: I could accept, after all, a literal man-child being a cute but altogether random touch in what's otherwise a middling contribution to the buddy comedy genre. But then came the argument about whether Ed Helms (playing the female love interest's narcissistic betrothed, Paxton Harding) is in a boy band or a "man band." And Ving Rhames playing a 42-year-old hired gun who laments having never "made love" to a woman -- despite sleeping with thousands. And the clincher of smart script-writing, protagonist Don Ready (Jeremy Piven) giving over to the perfectly articulated man-child cry at his moment of greatest personal anguish: "Something I want is being taken away from me, and I don't like it!" (Complete -- I kid you not -- with foot stamping.)

In short, the virtually unknown screenwriters Andy Stock and Rick Stempson deserve a hell of a lot of credit for an immensely intelligent script, which also manages to use such buddy comedy archetypes as persistent gay advances without "othering" the gay party as any different from the rest of the seriously deranged cast. Indeed, all the male characters here have problems: Deep and fairly unalterable personal problems. But that's pretty much the thrust of any buddy comedy, isn't it? To drive home the point that for many males, manhood is achieved not once in their lives, but as many, many, many times as it takes for the concept to stick.

The Goods may therefore be an average film in execution, but certainly not in spirit. I hope to all heck Stock and Stempson branch out in their next venture: I'd very much like to see what pervasive social narrative they choose to comment on next.

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