As the juvenile shenanigans of Growing Up and Other Lies gradually taper off and make room for more adult concerns, the “ah, I see what they’re getting at” thoughts begin settling in. It’s around this time you can imagine the movie’s creators have taken the “Don’t grow up, it’s a trap” bit of wisdom from the Peter Pan sector of the Internet and clunkily but earnestly turned it into a familiar, modest theme: “Growing Up Is Inevitable. Accept it.”
It’s a sobering, if not entirely convincing take from a film that charts the walking journey of four friends—Jake, Gunderson, Billy and Rocks—from the tip of Manhattan in a quest to cover its stretch of 260 blocks, north to south. The occasion is a last hurrah of sorts for the foursome as it also marks Jake’s farewell, a chance to hang with his best buds before moving to Indiana to help his aging father.
Right from the time we meet them, each of these characters are broadly defined and depicted, some more so than others. Which makes sense since none of them comes off as a human being equipped for the responsibilities of what we associate with adult life. They are caught between adolescence and the self-awareness that follows, friends who can’t help but roughhouse and verbally one-up each another as they gallivant and offer scatological hypotheticals for their own amusement.
As it follows them, Growing Up and Other Lies employs a conglomeration of styles—handheld camera, brief but steady tracking shots—that never cohere stylistically or thematically. But they mark the effort of directors trying different things, bringing a welcome energy to this rough-around-the-edges film. That energy lifts it from a rut of bro antics into scenes that add layers of recognizable complexity to its characters—the impulsive, ill-considered kiss during a family get-together; a melancholy heart-to-heart between former lovers during a child’s outdoor birthday party.
Some of the faces and names here will be familiar. Wyatt Cenac, perhaps best known as a correspondent for The Daily Show, is, depending on your tolerance for nonstop sarcasm, either the funniest or the most grating of the quartet. As Gunderson, he affects an air of practiced, jaded cool, his every quip dripping with insincerity.
Gunderson is a cynical asshole, and Cenac plays him to perfection—assuming he was intended that way, and not, as I suspect, meant to be a charmingly roguish character with a self-professed affinity for anarchy. His is a practiced insouciance, one that tosses off put-downs in a satisfied monotone. Cowriter and director Danny Jacobs takes his turn in front of the camera as Billy, the target of many of Gunderson’s withering assessments. Billy—who’s playing hooky from his corporate job—fits in neatly with the movie’s meandering look at irresponsibility, with a surprising outcome to his dereliction. Adam Brody (The League) is Rocks, the most conventionally attractive and maybe the least overtly “look at me” personality type of the troupe.
Jake (Josh Lawson of House of Lies) is the catalyst for the film’s walking trip, and might be the most likable of the quartet. That’s because he seems the closest to what we associate with grown-up behavior and concerns—despite an introduction that finds him performing the stupid human trick of being able to vomit at will without using his fingers.
Unfortunately, some of the women characters who briefly appear are depicted as bitchy, uptight, and ditzy, making them little more than foils for the men and their juvenile behavior. One notable exception, however, is the appealing Tabatha, played by Amber Tamblyn. She has a pair of pivotal, lengthy scenes as Jake’s ex-girlfriend, the one he still pines for. His feelings for her, along with entreaties from his cohorts, create the tension pulling him to stay in the known comfort (and perhaps stagnation) of New York. Jake verbalizes this as his “existential crisis,” an incorrect assessment (as Gunderson reminds him), but at least conveying the depth of his confusion and anxiety.
Growing Up and Other Lies captures an angst that should be familiar to millennials worried about what the future holds for them. That sense of uncertainty may also explain why Jake et al sometimes act as if a camera is watching them, each reaching from the big soup of humanity for recognition. Theirs is an existence where even having a corporate job in the Big Apple doesn’t preclude the irresponsible slacking borne of unfulfillment. Though it doesn’t carry the impact one would have hoped for, Growing Up and Other Lies finally intimates empathy for these modern musketeers clinging to the comfort of at least being there for each other.
Directors:Darren Grodsky, Danny Jacobs
Writers:Darren Grodsky, Danny Jacobs
Starring: Josh Lawson, Wyatt Cenac, Adam Brody, Danny Jacobs, Amber Tamblyn.
Release Date:March 20, 2015 (theaters and VOD)
Tampa-based critic (and full-time marketing guy) Anthony Salveggi has been reviewing films since 2009. You can follow him on “Twitter”: (https://twitter.com/mediascaper), which he occasionally remembers to update. He’s trying real hard to be the shepherd.