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Frat Pack Tribute Movie Review: Things to Do

Review by Mario Bernengo

First features tend to dwell on rites of passage separating childhood from adulthood. Or manhood, I should say, because it’s kind of a male thing. Basically every generation of male filmmakers has, at one point or another and to different extents, tried to capture the pain of leaving the safe, known world behind and facing the complicated process of growing up, but it became almost an obsession for the last “golden” generation of American cinema: American Graffiti (George Lucas), The Last Picture Show (Peter Bogdanovich), Who’s That Knocking at My Door? and Mean Streets (Martin Scorsese) are films where the overriding themes are male friendship, nostalgia, coming of age, the failure to understand the opposite sex and the struggle to do something with your life. And somewhere on the horizon, there was always a war someone had to go fight in, or a marriage another guy was forced into. Films of a kind that perhaps ended with Barry Levinson’s Diner in 1982, and probably began with Mike Nichols’s 1967 classic The Graduate, the quintessential rite-of-passage movie.

The Graduate was also allegedly one of the main sources of inspiration for Theodore Bezaire when he co-wrote his first feature with his high-school friend Mike Stasko, who also plays the lead in this little Canadian gem entitled Things to Do. The outcome, however, seems to be sprung out of another, more recent source, one that may very well prove to be the go-to movie for a new golden generation of filmmakers: Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson’s 1996 debut, Bottle Rocket. As far as I know, it is really the first film of its kind, presenting a more hands-on approach to the growing-up dilemma: Just don’t. Whatever happened to adventure? Whatever happened to fun? Whereas the earlier generation wept over a long-lost childhood, Wes Anderson and the Wilson brothers – Owen, Luke and Andrew – decided to celebrate it, re-invent it, and have a good laugh at it, though not without a fair amount of heart. Just nothing too obvious. Nothing too dramatic.

Things To Do does very much the same thing. If cubicles and Jeans Day are all the adult world has to offer, it seems to say, you might as well be dead. Or just start turning life into what you want it to be. In the case of Adam (Mike Stasko), change comes in the form of a “things-to-do” list announced by a TV self-help guru, and a free-spirited friend from the past.

After quitting his mind-numbingly boring, pencil-pusher job in the city, Adam comes back to his home town and his parents’ house – and to the people from high school he hoped never to see again. One of those people is Mac, the town slacker living off a couple of legal settlements that are part of his “sticking-it-to-the-man” take on life. But Adam gives in, if somewhat reluctantly, to Mac’s childish outlook on things, sending him, not “on the pathway to meet his ultimate goal”, as the TV guru puts it, but on a pathway back to life. Much the same way Dignan, Owen Wilson’s character in Bottle Rocket, and his 75-year plan sort of backhandedly helped Luke Wilson’s Anthony out of his depression.

Now, Mac is played by a certain Daniel Wilson. It is almost too eerie a coincidence that a reincarnation of Dignan should be played by someone who not only resembles Owen physically, but also shares his last name. And of course, they had to be related. As it turns out, Daniel is the first cousin of the more famous Wilson brothers, (and the son of “Uncle Joe”, who has appeared in a couple of Owen Wilson vehicles, such as Wedding Crashers and You, Me and Dupree). Of course, mirroring – both in theme, tone and structure – a movie like Bottle Rocket to such a great extent and, to boot, letting the cousin of its lead actor play a very similar character, could become a problem for first-time filmmakers trying to find a voice of their own.

It doesn’t. Things To Do has too much of its own thing going, too much personality and is simply too funny in its own right to be categorized as a mere imitation. You could say it is Bottle Rocket’s younger brother; or hell, it’s cousin. They’re family, in more ways than one. They share the same origin, the same DNA; they are both the result of the same love, the same outlook on life. They are part of the same attempt to help make life more comprehensible – and not to mention, more enjoyable – for a generation of boys with no clear direction. The so-called video game generation, with no wars to fight, no clear battles to win, no real grasp on what it means to be a man. And with the definition up for debate, confusion is bound to set in. But it also means we are given a lot of freedom to re-define the term, for good or for bad. Things To Do has clearly taken a stand for good, and we need more of those.

Though a little rough around the edges at times – it was made on a very limited budget, and obviously you can’t get every single actor in it to be perfect or the editing to be flawless (remember Clerks?) – the movie gets across its deadpan-humor look on twenty-something life today, sensitive in tone and helped by an effective soundtrack, as well as very smart, quotable dialogue, the kind that has become a Frat Pack trademark. Mike Sasko and Daniel Wilson, with their perfect comedic timing and the kind of chemistry that only real-life friends seem to be able to provide, deliver some great moments – and not only laugh-out-loud funny ones (though especially the first half delivers a bundle of them), but covering a wide range of emotions. In the end, we are left with a touchingly sincere celebration of the only things that make life worth living: our family, our friends and our dreams.

Things To Do is not only a promising first attempt, but a cult classic in the making. Get it while it’s hot. Enjoy with some beer.

****

Things to Do Official Website

Daniel Wilson (left) and Mike Stasko