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Another sign that I'm getting old / A brief review of "Unfinished Business" (2015)

When I was in high school, I remember sneering at a lot of comedies and dismissing them as "mainstream" or "safe."  Stuff like Meet the Parents.  I'd chuckle a handful of times and then spend the rest of the movie thinking, "Who finds this funny?"

I had this dichotomy where comedy had to fall into one of two categories.  Either you belonged to the edgy, envelope-pushing school or you were part of the generic "old people" style of comedy where jokes were nerfed and nothing too offensive could happen.  And of course, me being a young person, there was no way I could ever fall into the trap of enjoying old people comedy.  The people who laughed at that stuff?  Deluded, obviously.

I'm closer to 40 now than I am to being a teenager, so it's no surprise that my values and perceptions have shifted a bit.  But I'm still surprised when I find myself feeling just plain old.  Case in point: I just laughed my ass off at an "old person" comedy.

To be fair, Unfinished Business is not exactly the same brand of comedy as Meet the Parents.  It's incredibly lewd and very much R-rated.  But it still plays it safe in the grand scheme of things.  Characters have arcs and reaffirm their sense of worth, nobody's in danger of an unhappy ending, parenthood is patronized, and everybody's really just one big family by the end.

It has also been maligned by pretty much everyone.  Critics and audiences alike hated this movie.  Which means that right now there's some 16 year-old mini-me out there who's fuming about this and thinking, "Who's the 40 year-old Nebraskan idiot that thinks this garbage is funny?!"  And now I have to meekly raise my hand and say, "Um, me, but I'm 32 and from Baltimore."

But you know what the cool thing is about getting older?  You give less of a shit what other people think about your opinions.  Sometimes that's a problem, like when you vote for Trump.  (Oh, snap!  I should write for Late Night!)  Most of the time, though, it's pretty nice to just enjoy or not enjoy things and then move on.

So, whatever.  I liked this movie.

The three leads, Vince Vaughn, Tom Wilkinson, and Dave Franco, are a good mix.  I wouldn't say that they have great chemistry between them - very little comedy comes from their interactions with each other - but they're each amusing on their own and complement one another well.  When a thread of comedy is suggested, the movie goes for it and takes it as far as it can instead of cutting short just before the punchline.  And when the movie wants to be sweet, it feels like there's genuine sentiment rather than just lip service.

I also thought June Diane Raphael was fantastic.  She was given a generic "main character's wife" role, which is almost never good material to work with.  At best, this type of character is boring and does nothing, and at worst, they're nagging harpies.  Raphael is neither.  She's funny, charming, and supportive of her husband throughout.  It's not a groundbreaking performance, but I appreciated that she brought more nuance to it than anybody asked her to.

The only major criticism I have is that the movie tries too hard to appeal to the values of family and parenthood while still pushing forward with Vaughn's career.  There's a constant focus on the difficulty Vaughn has balancing work and life, which mounts until a breaking point where it seems like he'll have to make a clear decision: chase a lead or come home and take care of his kids.  Then the movie goes, "Naaaaah, just kidding!  You can totally do both."

It's too much of a cheat.  It's also at odds with the beginning of the movie, where Vaughn is frustrated with his job because he hates how much it takes him away from his kids.  His boss, Sienna Miller, mocks him for using his kids as a crutch, which leads him to quit.  If the ending is that Vaughn continues to dig himself deeper into that same exact career trajectory, then how's that a good thing?

I'd have liked it much more if it went for something more low-key.  Maybe Vaughn loses the huge sale after all.  He's feeling run down and broken and goes to the airport to fly back home.  Before he gets on the plane, he has one last run-in with Miller.  She's closed her deal, but she's unhappy - she just learned she's pregnant and has no idea what to do.  And that's where Vaughn realizes how to get his happy ending - he has to recalculate his strategy so he can spend more time at home.  Because for him, having a kid isn't a problem, it's the thing that fulfills him.  That's the victory, right?  Wasn't that the point of the first ninety minutes?

Still.  I liked this movie.  A lot more than I was supposed to, apparently.

My Rating: 3.5 / 5