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MOVIE REVIEW
Role Models (2008)

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Sam Urdank/Universal Studios

“Role Models” marks the third time director David Wain and co-writer Ken Marino – veterans of “The State” sketch comedy show – have tried to translate their particular brand of humor to the big screen. Finally, after the brainless “Wet Hot American Summer” and scattershot high-concept “The Ten,” they’ve made a movie that rejects the snarky attitudinal deficiencies of those prior efforts for a comic style more rooted in real experiences and genuine emotions. It works wonderfully, with every comic moment underlined by varied shades of sadness.

Paul Rudd and Seann William Scott star as Danny and Wheeler, co-workers at an energy drink company forced to undergo community service instead of jail after a very bad day for Danny ends with their arrest. The judge sends them to Sturdy Wings, a Big Brothers Big Sisters of America-type of organization. There, the eccentric program head (Jane Lynch) assigns them to two of the most difficult cases. Danny gets paired with Augie (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), a lonely cape-wearing teen who looks to an elaborate fantasy role-playing game for communal support, and Wheeler is assigned to Ronnie Shields (Bobb'e J. Thompson), an angry adolescent.

As the characters share 150 hours together, experiencing events both humorous and painful, the screenplay subtly paints a portrait of individuals growing up and gaining self-confidence, despite being at very different points in their lives. It does so with a lightness of being. The film never hammers home the sentimentality and it never preaches about the perils of living the immature, man-child existence shared by Danny and Wheeler.

Rather than obsessively compiling visual and verbal puns and stopping there, as had previously been his practice, Mr. Wain uses the broad comedy to explore the ways one’s experiences can imbue the smallest, strangest phenomena with great personal significance. Nothing better represents the Wain touch than the scenes in which Augie and Danny compete in Laire, the role-playing game. Most movies would poke merciless fun at the sight of a community park filled with nerds dressed in medieval garb, speaking in old English and engaging in battles with inflatable swords. Although the filmmaker does his share of mocking here, he tempers it with his depiction of the deep, meaningful effect participating has on both characters and the personal growth it spurs.

The Laire scenes, imbued with subtle dramatic weight even as they leave you laughing, serve as an appropriate template for all of “Role Models.” For a movie that first seems pitched as another obvious parody from Mr. Wain and co., the significant emotional impact it holds comes as a major surprise. In paying more attention to their characters and less to the concept at hand, Mr. Wain and his collaborators have finally made a movie worthy of being celebrated and remembered.

ROLE MODELS

Opens on Nov. 7 in the United States and on Jan. 23, 2009 in Britain.

Directed by David Wain; written by Paul Rudd, Mr. Wain, Ken Marino and Timothy Dowling, based on a story by Mr. Dowling and William Blake Herron; director of photography, Russ T. Alsobrook; edited by Eric Kissack; music by Craig Wedren; production designer, Stephen Lineweaver; produced by Mary Parent, Scott Stuber and Luke Greenfield; released by Universal Pictures. Running time: 1 hour 35 minutes. This film is rated R by M.P.A.A. and 15 by B.B.F.C.

WITH: Seann William Scott (Wheeler), Paul Rudd (Danny), Christopher Mintz-Plasse (Augie), Bobb’e J. Thompson (Ronnie), Elizabeth Banks (Beth) and Jane Lynch (Sweeny).

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