2008, shockingly, was six years ago. The year produced classics like The Dark Knight, In Bruges, Slumdog Millionaire, and Step Up 2: The Streets. Like every year, though, it simply had too many cinematic triumphs; some were forced down into the recesses of anonymity, where intrepid voyagers like us at GWW must traverse in order to bring joyous works to you, the viewing masses. 2008 also signaled a high point for two of America’s favorite sidekicks — John C. Reilly and Rainn Wilson. For Reilly, Step Brothers warmed our hearts and upset our mothers, and for Wilson, The Office was in the midst of dominating workplace banter and Thursday-night activity. Will Ferrell and Steve Carell were and still are the bigger stars, but both of these zany men men were well-beloved by this point. Nevertheless, most of you may still be unfamiliar with their quirkier fare from the magical year of Heath Ledger’s Joker, Benjamin Button, and Step Up 2: The Streets.
We shall begin with Rainn Wilson and The Rocker. As you sit there now, reading this masterful work, you probably imagine a cast of Wilson, Emma Stone, Josh Gad, and several talented supporting players producing a commercial and critical success. But LO, 2008 was a different and scary time, one in which Stone was not yet an American Sweetheart and Gad hadn’t bad-sung his way into our hearts with The Book of Mormon and Frozen. Essentially a flop, The Rocker tells the tale of Wilson’s Fish, a failed rock star who happens upon fame after a video of him drumming naked goes viral. From there, ADD is formed, with Fish joined by Stone, Gad, and Teddy Geiger as the band’s fame grows and grows.
One important things drives the bulk of the movie: the music is really freakin’ catchy! Geiger can actually sing, Gad is a lovable background presence, and “Tomorrow Never Comes” and “I’m So Bitter” stand out as genuinely entertaining — if not earth-shattering — songs. The believability of the band allows for some wonderful music-related shenanigans, namely a misstep with a crazed music video director, played harshly by Demetri Martin, a comic you already or should know about. Besides Martin, several other comedians find their way into the film, once again making us question how it wasn’t met with more adoration. Leading the band, Vesuvius, that kicked Fish out years ago are Will Arnett, Bradley Cooper, and Fred Armisen, all sporting overly cocky attitudes and hilariously overdone British accents.
The story is simple and happy and predictable, but the cast simply keeps growing stronger with time, and the music helps the story flow from success to success to strange encounter. You may find it hard to separate Wilson from Dwight, but at least here he still plays a sort of maniac, though of course nothing can match the insanity of the Schrute family. Jane Lynch and Christina Applegate lend some more sassiness to the overloaded players list, with the latter providing yet another example of her comedic chops alongside her other films like Anchorman and Going the Distance (another one that’s worth your down time). Wilson will delight will his strangeness, and the music will stick in your head for at least a short while. Watch it if only to see Stone and Gad and the rest before they truly soared into stardom, and to see Wilson reigning (HA) in his comic derangement.
For all box office intents and purposes, The Promotion might as well have never happened. Nevertheless, it has comedic merit, as I believe pretty much anything with John C. Reilly does. The real star of the movie is another GWW favorite, he of the too many Ns, Seann William Scott. Scott and Reilly play assistant managers for a grocery store aiming for a big promotion (That part you may have guessed.). Here, get acquainted.
I won’t focus too much on Scott, but he does do a great job playing a bland, bland guy crumbling at the prospect of his reduced American Dream falling to pieces. Reilly, per usual, manages to instill a unique craziness in his Richard (not a penis joke!). He is dorky and charming and Canadian, but also potentially manipulative and cunning. Fred Armisen shows up again, Jenna Fischer joins the fun, and we get to watch Scott and Reilly deal with problems almost too inane to believe. Hoodlums fill the parking lot, and jokers undermine the store’s comment cards, and all the while two simple middle-class men are driven to desperation.
The movie’s conflicts and their resolutions are small and insignificant when viewed from the outside, yet the obsessive thirst for the promotion exhibited by both men remains entirely believable. Their respective quests for more money, manliness, and agency are pathetic at times but always sadly relatable. The movie came out right before 2008’s economic collapse. I don’t mean to suggest it caused the recession (OR DID IT?!), only to highlight the timeliness of a story that picks apart the minutiae of a working life to the point of driving kind, normal human beings insane.
Films likes these were never destined for box office greatness or universal renown, but they offer two chances to enjoy talented casts making small stories feel big, just like the rest of us.