Adam McKay’s Step Brothers, starring Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly, marks the 15th anniversary since its theatrical release in 2008.
When one looks at the Judd Apatow-produced films in the 00s, Brennan Huff (Will Ferrell) and Dale Doback (John C. Reilly) are signature man-children. Both adult children are still living at home with their parents. Neither one of them enjoy the idea of becoming step brothers. There are times when they’re bonding over things that they have in common. On the other hand, there are times when the two of them want to kill each other. This is why you don’t touch Dale’s drum set! In any event, both Ferrell and Reilly are at their A game when it comes to improvising lines. When it comes to McKay’s comedies, the improv elevates every single one of his films. Richard Jenkins and Mary Steenburgen get some good lines in there, too, as Robert and Nancy.
When Robert Doback meets Nancy Huff, it sets forth the plot in motion. Unfortunately for them, they have man-children living at home. While they try to get both Brennan and Dale to grow up and get a real job, Robert comes to realize that they shouldn’t leave their dinosaurs behind. Anyway, Brennan gets a job at brother Derek’s (Adam Scott) firm. He volunteers to be the point guy on the Catalina Wine Mixer. Fun fact: the wine mixer became reality as a result of the film! Anyway it is the biggest event of the year but thanks to some bad apples in the crowd, the 1980s Billy Joel cover band blows a fuse. Enter Prestige Worldwide (Dale and Brennan) to save the day. It’s enough that Derek finally apologizes to Brennan for being an asshole.
In The Making of Step Brothers, filmmaker Adam McKay refers to Adam Scott’s Derek as a Donald Trump, Type-A kind of guy. Adam Scott can be very funny, as we all know, but he plays the character as an asshole. No wonder why Alice (Kathryn Hahn) is having an affair with Dale. In terms of comedy, it was a breakout role for Hahn, who I grew up watching on Crossing Jordan.
The thing about watching Step Brothers in 2023 is that comedy is so subjective and as the film hits fifteen years, it feels cruder than ever. Is it funny watching two grow man-children acting in this way? Maybe it was back in 2008 but not so much today. Adam McKay even admitted in an April 2021 interview with The New York Times that both Brennan and Dale would be heavily invested in conspiracy theories and annoying both Robert and Nancy into it.
They’d be way into it, and they’d be torturing Jenkins and Steenburgen’s characters with it, and they would eventually be having meetings at the house and somehow QAnon would drift into Jenkins’s work life and the Q Shaman would show up at Jenkins’s workplace. They also would have loved Trump. I don’t want to speak for Ferrell and Reilly, but I think you could safely assume they would agree with that.
Knowing this information is troublesome in rewatching for the anniversary. But besides that, there’s language here that wasn’t funny then and definitely isn’t funny now. I didn’t watch the film when I did an Adam McKay binge back when Don’t Look Up was released in late 2021. My last viewing came back in 2010 in the lead-up to The Other Guys opening in theaters so it’s been a while. It will probably be even longer until my next viewing in all likelihood because my comedy sensibilities have changed so much through the years.
DIRECTOR: Adam McKay
SCREENWRITERS: Will Ferrell & Adam McKay
CAST: Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly, Richard Jenkins, Mary Steenburgen, Adam Scott, Kathryn Hahn, Andrea Savage, Rob Riggle
Columbia released Step Brothers in theaters on July 25, 2023. Grade: 3/5
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