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The Candy-Colored Darkness of Full Grown Men

Check out 30 Rock's Judah Friedlander in a radically different role in the smart indie comedy Full Grown Men (TFF 2006), now available on DVD.



David Munro's Full Grown Men begins with an ending. Our hero, Alby Cutrera (Matt McGrath), is getting kicked out of the house by his wife, who yells: "Don't come back until you grow up!" It's a scene that plays like the coda to a million films starring ex-Saturday Night Live dudes playing adorably childish goofs mired in arrested development who invariably end up with the understanding babe. Alby's behavior is squarely within that comic archetype; because Alby is a man-child. And "man-child" is an awful term, the type of word that should conjure up visions of Adam Sandler mugging his way through grade school, Will Ferrell in an elf suit, or any of the Judd Apatow troupe ensconced in their own filth on a couch, smoking pot and playing video games. But unlike the man-children currently swarming the multiplexes, Men is  "a cautionary tale" about the man-child's pathology, following Alby on a surreal road-trip through a candy-colored Florida to the theme park of Diggityland as he learns that at some point, a thirty-something guy can eventually become a man.

"I feel like Cinderella," says Munro, calling from San Francisco. He's talking about the circuitous path that his "second-coming-of-age" indie has taken from the big screen. After a round of festival premieres in 2006 (including the Tribeca Film Festival), Men ultimately received a theatrical release through Emerging Pictures, resulting from their win of the Sundance Channel Audience Award for the indieWIRE: Undiscovered Gems series. For the director, Alby's story was "a whole serious look at a generation that's living in its past, the whole retro craze."  Alby's past is written all over him, starting with  his horrific hair, a bowl cut that's a little skater boy and a little six-year-old, and his high, childish voice. He's clearly "an extreme," according to Munro, but he also has "that pure imagination and wonder in the world."

The nuances of Munro's script drew a stellar cast, from Alan Cumming, who also produced, the ever-effervescent and hilarious Amy Sedaris, Debbie Harry as the world's saddest mermaid, and Judah Friedlander in a straight-man role as Alby's childhood friend Eli, whose straight-laced life teaching special needs students stands in stark comparison to the ensuing childishness. Over the phone, Friedlander admits that he had read for the role of Alby, which was similar to other roles (in particular, his current weekly showcase as Frank on NBC's genius 30 Rock) that he had played, but he was more interested in pursuing the buttoned-up part. Additionally, playing Eli meant that he had to work with child actors, but he's no W.C. Fields: "I loved working with kids. I learned so much from them. They're so in the moment all the time," Friedlander enthuses. Matt McGrath, who plays Alby, should be relatively new to audiences, having played small roles in The Anniversary Party and The Broken Hearts Club. Munro found him, after a lengthy search, via his writer friend Beth Lisick, who had seen the actor in a stage version of Tom Waits' Black Rider. He's a wonderful discovery, his handsome face hiding under that goofy hair, and he takes the movie into its darker, smarter areas, pushing it past its broad set-ups and into something more human.

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Munro worked closely on Men with his wife, Xandra Castleton, and the marriage sounds stronger for it: "On some meta level, we both grew up making it, and we had to learn about running a small business together. The rest of our lives, in comparison, is a tea party." Castleton's input, wisely, meant that the script didn't end with Alby meeting a lovably quirky woman (another comedy cliche, think Natalie Portman's character in Garden State) who saves him or accepts him.

Another plus to working alongside your spouse is that Munro, a Coral Gables native, and Casteton were able to travel all over Florida, researching locations for the film. "I wanted to put a world around Alby that kept him even more trapped in his bubble of nostalgia," Munro says. "We did lots of research, looking on websites dedicated to vanishing Florida, went to amusement parks that were still hanging on, and we pushed people to find the places that looked like that." One of the most stunning sights in Men takes place at the Weeki Wachee Springs, where beautiful girls play in a live mermaid show for crowds. "It's fifty miles outside of Orlando," the director enthuses, "where all the springs are. The girls, who are usually teenagers to about their early twenties there, it's like being a rock star, being a Weeki Wachee Mermaid. It's way better than being the head cheerleader." Men manages to get out of the expected sights of Florida—Disney, Miami, alligators, serial killers—and the film serves as a record of the state's idiosyncracies, of places that "are going away, like Gatorland, and we'll have a document of it."

The care that Munro took with getting a "dreamy suburbia," as part of a "timeless Florida, the Florida you get in a snow globe at the tsotchke stand," makes a difference with the film's effect. While it's steeped in indie tradition—road trips, childish men, wacky characters along the way—Men is playing with those tropes in order to comment on what you miss when you're stuck in the past, how it's not the stuff of happy endings to Adam Sandler films. And the film's hit a nerve—the director reports that many a woman will come up to him after a showing, saying that Alby's just like their boyfriends or their husbands. Perhaps happiness lies in finding the balance between being an Alby and being an adult, and maybe the film serves as a warning. There is, after all, a lot of creativity and good to result from an inner child, and Munro's wise enough to see that he still has some Alby inside him: For his next project, "I'm writing a comic book!" he exclaims, giggling at the irony.
 


Full Grown Men is now available on DVD. 

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