The man-child character is one that films usually use in a supporting role. It involves a grown man acting with child characteristics, and is almost always used exclusively in a comedic way. This character is usually a hit or miss one, either working extremely well as either a foil or friend to one of the lead characters, or being incredibly annoying, making you wish you could reach into the screen and make them grow up. Let me remind you that this is generally a supporting role.
Step Brothers features two of these man-child characters as its leads. The basic premise is that two older people meet each other and fall in love. Each one of them has a middle-aged son who still lives at home. Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly are these two people. Ferrell is Brennan, while Reilly is Dale. That’s about as distinguished as each character gets, as they seem to be more or less the same person. I suppose one difference is that Brennan can sing while Dale plays the drums, but the love of music is a mutual. (There’s actually an entire scene dedicated to showing us how they are so similar, a scene where the pair becomes “best friends”).
The idea is that the duo don’t start liking one another, but after a series of fights, miscommunications and odd situations, they become closer. But will they stay amiable? The only thing left to determine is whether or not they will actually grow up like their parents wish, or if they’ll continue acting as if they’re 12 years old. Since this is supposed to be a funny Will Ferrell movie, you probably can guess what happens in the end.
I say that Step Brothers is “supposed” to be funny. I didn’t find it funny at all. Well, that’s not completely fair, as there was one scene that involved Brennan going to a therapist (Andrea Savage) and ends up professing his love for her. That was the only time that I laughed during this film. The rest of the time, I sat stone-faced, unable to find what I was supposed to laugh at. Oh, it was clear that characters were making jokes, but the fact of the matter was that none of them were funny.
As with all comedies, whether or not you find it funny will depend on what you enjoy in a comedy. In this case, most of the jokes involve using sexual words in an immature way, or having one of its two main characters act like a moron, and letting us view the “sane” characters’ reactions. Said reactions are either disbelief or acceptance, nothing more. The toilet humor isn’t funny here, and neither is watching other people react to events that are little more than two adults getting to act out their childish fantasies on-screen.
To find out if you’ll find Step Brothers funny, I’ll give you a couple of scenarios that occur in the film. At one point, one character puts his testicles on a drum set. In another, the two leads are in a job interview, and one of them has flatulence for somewhere around 20 seconds. A final one has elementary school children calling our man-children derogatory names. None of this is funny to me, but if you laughed, you may find this movie hilarious.
I have a feeling that Step Brothers could have worked if its leads were characters that we liked and cared about. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case. Neither one is endearing, always taking advantage of their parents’ generosity. Their parents are better, but it’s hard to realize that they are enabling their man-children to act this way. They have let them stay this way for dozens of years, and this makes us question their character too.
I actually question whether or not Step Brothers believed that the audience could be offended by what it has to offer. Offensive comedies can be funny, even if they are offensive because they push boundaries that make you think about whether or not you should laugh. Step Brothers doesn’t come very close to pushing the bar, except for maybe the aforementioned testicle scene. But movies have shown things like that before without causing too much of a stir. As much toilet humor that Step Brothers does have, even the characters don’t seem to mean it or take offense to it. It just feels empty.
I will say, however, that Ferrell and Reilly seem to know how to act like they are 12 years old. Maybe they watched actual children for a while, although that’s a fairly creepy thought. They do a good job making us think that they are unable to act like they’re adults, even if a significant portion of the plot is dedicated to them being told they have to grow up, undermining the work that they put in. But that’s fine, because if nothing’s going to work, you might as well go all-out in that direction.
Step Brothers wasn’t funny or entertaining. It has two man-child characters acting like they’re 12 years old. There isn’t anything funny about that, especially when the jokes are all low-brow sexual references. The lead actors give good performances, but in a comedy, I need to be laughing. I laughed once, and that may have been out of pity. There is also no surprise to the story, which is par for the course in films like this. There just wasn’t anything here for me to like.