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Alby Cutrera yearns for a time when life was carefree and action figures were twelve inches tall. When his wife insults him for being more of a playmate than a father to his young son, Alby heads for safety and tracks down his boyhood pal Elias whose memory of their younger days is considerably less rosy. They set out on a road trip to Diggityland, their favorite place as kids, but simpler times turn complicated as the two friends confront the land mines of their past. Journeying through the Oz of Central Florida, they encounter a cast of wounded roadside romantics - a disgruntled ex-theme park employee, a horny bartending clown, and a delusional mermaid - each one shedding light on the perils of not letting go. Full Grown Men is the bittersweet tale of a man who learns the hard way that the best years of his life may still lie ahead of him. Written by
The director has said that he found himself in his thirties wearing tennies and playing kid's games and noticed other male friends behaving similarly. This was the seed of his film about a man unable to relate to adulthood who runs away from his wife and young son taking a case full of action toys to sell to a buyer in Florida. On the way he seeks his childhood best friend, whom he turns out to have bullied mercilessly. But he thinks that time and that friendship were idyllic.
The story has some points in common with 'Chuck and Buck,' Mike White's uncomfortable tale (directed by Miguel Arteta) about a childlike man who goes to look up a boyhood pal, thinking their homo-erotic relationship can be revived; perhaps misconceiving how it was in the first place. Chuck is married and straight. Buck has stayed the way he was.
One has to view with caution the idea that childish men are a new phenomenon. Haven't women always seen us this way? Isn't the puer eternus--the eternal youth--a universal archetype? Yes, America famously fetishizes youth--but not childhood for grown men. Didn't the ancient Greeks idolize youthful beauty too? Granted, mass media seems to pursue a relentless dumbing-down of adulthood for commercial purposes, trying (with some apparent success) to enslave adult men to techno-toys (with women eager to join the club). American men today seem short on grown-up role models. But if David Munro was concerned with these issues, the movie he made feels neither realistic nor polemical. It's a rambling road picture about a character who's hard to care about or even understand. Did this guy ever have an occupation? Did he get an education above middle school? How did he find a wife and stay married long enough to have a five- or six-year-old son? Off he goes, with his bag of toys, and these questions are never considered. Obviously, the protagonist's twee-ness is called into question. He takes a literal beating. But it's still not clear what Munro is trying, if anything, to say.
According to A.V. Club's Noel Murray, 'Full Grown Men' is "a commentary on a phenomenon that cartoonist Bill Griffith once dubbed 'kidults:' adults who dress, behave, and entertain themselves as though they were still 11 years old." He adds that it's also "a subtle dig at the indie quirkfests and Hollywood comedies that lionize these twinkly, sexless, deeply damaged half-wits." Those would be logical directions to go. Much of the time the protagonist here can indeed be seen as a 'twinkly, sexless, deeply damaged half-wit.' But he isn't being presented as a 'phenomenon' and Munro doesn't seem to be making digs at films that celebrate it--if such exist. Murray concludes "'Full Grown Men' often becomes as intolerably silly as the twee Amerindies it's reacting to." Perhaps that's because it isn't really 'reacting to' them. Most of the time the film seems without any perspective other than its clueless protagonist's.
It doesn't really seem Munro accomplishes much besides taking us on a little ride with this fey "loser" (as his wife calls him, in a parting shot). It's hard to see even a belated coming of age happening. There's just this one guy, Alby Cutrera (Matt McGrath), whose stubborn, smiley cutesy-ness is hard to relate to. He finds Elias Guber (Judah Friedlander), the childhood friend, who's become a teacher of children with special needs. Elias and his colleagues are taking the class to a place in Florida called Diggityland where Elias is going to get an award for his work. Alby tags along. And he meets some colorful characters.
First there's a disgruntled ex-Diggityland employee with militaristic and sociopathic tendencies (Alan Cumming, who co-produced this film) who hitches a ride with Elias and Alby. Not a very successful creation, Cumming's character, crazy, threatening, angry, perhaps harmless, odd, but not really funny. More successful is Trina (Amy Sedaris), a clown-in-training tending bar where Alby, departing from childhood, gets drunk: her manic energy is appealing. Rather haunting is Deborah Harry as a sad former mermaid living in a trailer who wants to seduce Alby, it seems. Best of all is Rollie (Benjamin Karpf), a special needs boy from the class who becomes Alby's roommate in a motel on the trip to Diggityland. Rollie's dialog with Alby that evening when he refuses to go to sleep is charming and fresh. It makes you wish Munnro had forgotten his tennies and his adulthood-shirking friends and made a movie about the special needs class and Elias. Friedlander, who is well-remembered from 'American Splendor' five years ago, has a more nuanced, appealing role than McGrath--though as a foil to Alby his response of 'I will tolerate you but I do not like you' never varies, or has much effect.
The upshot of these encounters is that Alby is rejected by everyone--but not the film itself, which represents Alby's world, appealingly, in candy-colored images tinted with pink filters by cinematographer Frank G. DeMarco that give the Florida locales warmth even when the protagonist is getting beaten up by dwarfs or left by the side of the road. Alby is, unintentionally or simply cluelessly, mean to children, and was mean to his friend as a child. But the movie isn't mean to him. If it were, this would be a different, darker, more thought-provoking story. 'Full Grown Men' has its hard-core fans, and won an IndieWire "Undiscovered Gems" award. With a belated US distribution in selected cities, it is getting a theatrical life-extension, but it lacks either a grown-up point of view--or a true appreciation of childhood.
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