Say Goodbye to Candyland

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Full Grown Men
Directed by Dave Munro
at Cinema Village

David Munro’s first major feature, “Full Grown Men,” subtly explores the nature of contemporary nostalgia entertained by today’s thirtysomethings, apparent through the recent resuscitation of Marvel lore and other childhood classics. In a stylized Candyland American south, 35-year-old husband and father Alby Cutrera (Matt McGrath) fantasizes about his carefree childhood days, when all that mattered were his buddy Elias, action figures and recess. “Full Grown Men” follows Alby in his desperate struggle to escape the stifling responsibilities of adulthood as he leaves his wife and son to go home and take a road trip to Diggityland (a fictional poor man’s Disneyland, part-theme park part-county fair) in hopes that it will be an epic renewal of their boyhood freedom. A melancholy note threads its way across the whimsy and the mayhem that ensues, so that every laugh gets somehow choked halfway.

Matt McGrath (Boys Don’t Cry, The Broken Heart’s Club) is disturbingly believable as a man-boy stuck in time, absent-mindedly slurping slushies, eating fruit loops and squirming with energy and arbitrary excitement. The world is colored in the dust of pixie sticks, with clear skies and fluffy white clouds. The soundtrack, while diverse and endearing, sustains a dark frivolity two clicks away from an ice cream truck jingle in a horror flick. The world is uncomfortably perfect, and sparkly wide shots of stretches of landscape across which Alby walks reduce him to the lost little boy he insists on remaining, swallowed by the big bad world.

Judah Friedlander (American Splendor) sensitively plays Elias, who uses sympathy and tough love to help Alby recognize that childhood was in fact not all laughs and fairy tales and that, even back then, his scathing practical jokes and tomfoolery had consequences—Alby just hadn’ t been the one to suffer them. In an effort to forgive Alby for his oblivious insensitivity, Elias surrenders to him once more and agrees to take him on his travel in time to Diggityland. Over the course of a bumpy ride and multiple return hitchhike attempts, absurd characters symbolic of his fantasy childhood reveal themselves in the complexity and cold light of the real world : Trina, (Amy Sedaris) a clown-in-training and trashy bar-tender with three midget-clown goons; a hitchhiking former employee of Diggityland turned gunman with a grudge (Alan Cumming) and Beauty (Deborah Harry), a Diggityland mermaid—as delusional as Alby— who is on a mission to save sailors in peril. Left with only a shattered dream, Alby must count on Elias’ patience, together with the charm and maturity of the special needs students he teaches, to hold his hand through his long-overdue discovery of adulthood.

The build-up for Alby’s revelation is extensive, but when the moment arrives, the payoff is minimal. Though Alby gives adulthood some lip service to act as a perfect finale tied with red ribbon, David Munro seems determined to keep the audience at arm’ s length from the same reality that Alby stubbornly avoids. “I’m a shitty friend,” he says, sitting in a stretch of green by a highway with his legs splayed in front of him, “I’m a shitty, shitty-ass shit.”

He may abandon the depth of his attachment to childhood, but the artificial infantilism sustains itself through the credits. One is left with the feeling that perhaps our nostalgic illusions are easily recognizable, at least more than Alby’s, but no one’s are easily shaken.

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