Another weekend, another indie road movie about emotionally stunted characters going on a quirky adventure populated by a cavalcade of weirdos who teach life lessons. Full Grown Men gets bonus points for being funnier and less uneven than other examples of its ilk, but it still suffers from many of the frustrating clichés that have plagued the independent film scene for years.

Matt McGrath stars as Alby Cutrera, a moderately obnoxious wannabe comic-book artist whose stunted emotional growth is symbolized through a collection of vintage action figures. An argument with his wife over the collection results in him angrily leaving. He returns to his hometown, staying briefly with his dementia-suffering mother before reconnecting with Elias Guber (Judah Friedlander). Now a special education teacher, Guber has matured into a bitter, easily annoyed man whose antagonistic childhood friendship with Alby has shaped his adult personality.

Still, Alby’s forceful exuberance and their shared history allows him to manipulate Guber into driving him to Diggity Land, a theme park obviously modeled after Disney World (their journey is across Florida, after all). Along the way, they meet a wild assortment of characters who provide easy metaphors for Alby and Guber’s problems. There’s a hitchhiker (Alan Cumming) who once worked at Diggity Land and expresses a desire to go back and shoot everyone; an old Mafioso (Jerry Grayson) who buys vintage toys to resell with the same enthusiasm and markup of drugs and prostitutes; a cute barmaid (Amy Sedaris) currently attending a clown college run by her bar’s dwarf owners; and a former Diggity Land mermaid (Deborah Harry) whose life was destroyed by her inability to grow up.

Along the way, the issues between Alby and Guber naturally boil over, and if director and co-writer David Munro had focused more energy on the dynamics of this relationship and less on the wacky people and situations they encounter on the journey, the whole movie would have worked a lot better. McGrath and Friedlander share an easy rapport and do a great job trading sarcastic barbs, and the movie is at its best when it’s just the two of them in a station wagon, arguing about anything and everything. The movie splits them up too soon, brings them back together too late, and wastes far too much time on comedic vignettes that miss more than they hit. Professional oddballs like Cumming and Sedaris are always a welcome presence, but they’re given so little to work with, I couldn’t help feeling impatient when the film focused on them instead of its central relationship.

Road movies have existed as long as the medium. They’ve become a staple of independent films like Little Miss Sunshine, Away We Go, and The Go-Getter, which use the trip as a frequently bland, lazy metaphor for the path from childhood to adulthood. The thing this new crop of indies misunderstand that superior road movies (It Happened One Night, Midnight Run, Planes, Trains and Automobiles) embrace is that it’s less about the weirdos met along the way than the relationship that develops between the mismatched pair stuck on the road together.

At any rate, the weird people and situations should serve as a catalyst to explore new dimensions of the budding central relationship, not simply for amusement. That’s why this film’s toy merchant sequence works. It’s not about the goofy conceit that this man will sell whatever he can that people will pay ridiculous sums of money for — it’s about the way he changes Alby and Guber’s dynamic and causes one to betray the other in order to make some easy money. The other vignettes — particularly the clown bar sequence — lack this extra dimension.

Full Grown Men simply doesn’t hang together well enough to recommend. It’s a shame, because what works in the film is quite enjoyable. However, what doesn’t is quite bad.

D. B. Bates is a freelance script reader and writer.

Comments (2)

On June 9, 2011 at 10:04 AM, Gilbert wrote...

After reading some major film reviewer’s comments I watched the movie; they tended to like the movie. I have an acting background and love movies plays etc. After reading your review, I’m wondering why there aren’t more like you, who Actually understand what they’re writing about ? Would certainly like to Read more of your stuff and maybe a bit about your background. A breath of fresh air.

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On June 12, 2011 at 8:58 PM, D. B. Bates wrote...

Well, Gilbert, we started the site because we felt there weren’t enough people like us. In my view (I’m not speaking for the site, even if I’m one of the founders), critics and reviewers tend to pigeonhole themselves into one of two categories: the layman and the snooty cinephile. I feel like I’m the happy medium, and we wanted to start a site devoted to that happy medium. Unfortunately, we found audiences tend to respond more to the extremes.

Though the site’s gone, the archives remain, so you can check out all the reviews there. For more on me and my background, check out my personal site.

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