In this essay, I will discuss Role Models which deals both with the characters of new lad and a family-man. With my following analysis, I would like to prove that the film doesn’t really condemn the new lad character nor the family-man, rather it stresses the importance of not inclining too much to either extreme position if you want to be happy. The film urges viewers to be tolerant and sympathetic to moderate laddism and cautious about excessive pursuit of arbitrary social values and desperate chase for productivity at any cost. Overall, it has therapeutic potential both to lads and people who need to learn how to relax. It shows that we can create our own worlds of happiness without having to obey arbitrarily constructed rules and that we shouldn’t abandon fun.
At the beginning we are introduced to a couple of friends – Danny and Wheeler. They both work as promoters of the Minotaur energy drink, a job which seems to be more suitable for younger people. While Wheeler is clearly okay with a job where he dresses up as a minotaur in his thirties, Danny gets progressively more frustrated with his life to the point where his girlfriend Beth decides to break up with him because of his constant negativity. According to David Hansen-Miller and Rosalind Gill’s article “Lad Flicks”, Danny is likened to the character of Andy from The 40-Year-Old Virgin. They say that “Andy and Danny proceed to struggle with the conflicts between the security of their immaturity and the demand to grow up.” This is where I must disagree with them. Danny doesn’t have a problem with growing up. On the contrary.
Wheeler and Danny represent two different kinds of men of contemporary society. Wheeler is the definition of Hansen Miller and Gill’s new lad. He is a womanizer, party-goer, alcohol and drug user and overall an irresponsible person with no need to develop. He doesn’t mind a hangover – a symbol representing the bad consequences of regressing to youth – because he hasn’t even got to the point he could regress from.
Danny, on the other hand, is trying to live up to the image of a monogamous man, with a productive life, serious job and all overall a prototypical middle-class male in his mid 30s contrastive to Wheeler. He is frustrated because his life differs significantly from his target. According to the unwritten rules of society, if he wants to belong to the responsible group instead of the “laddistic” one, he should be married by now, or so he thinks. It is necessary to say his girlfriend Beth has a very serious job, she is a lawyer. In some other films like School of Rock, the main character is looked down on by others for being an outsider and not having a serious job, often his girlfriend leaves him, until he gets his life together or until others realize that being different is not a bad thing. However, in Role models, Danny’s girlfriend doesn’t leave him for his inferior job. She has no problem with it. She leaves him because in his attempt to meet social expectations, to be someone, he refuses to have fun. This state of mind of his is best represented by a scene where he refuses to sing at a party. He believes he is not supposed to have fun. He believes he is supposed to get married to Beth as if it would set him on the right track. Beth is aware of his situation. It’s like the film’s message comes from her heart.
Another person failed by the expectations of the family-man prototype is little Ronnie. If a man is supposed to take care of his family and be responsible, why did his father leave him? Most of other children probably have a father. A “traditional” nuclear family has long been promoted as a standard by media and government. Robbie senses hypocrisy in the way a family-man is perceived as opposed to how things are in reality. Consequently, he refuses to respect any male authority representing this unstable prototype. When Wheeler steps in as Robbie’s big brother the film provides a background for the new laddism. Wheeler doesn’t lose patience after Robbie’s excesses because he can immediately relate to him. Wheeler’s lad character is not condemned by the movie, it is suggested that he’s like that because of lack of a role model in his youth. In fact, both Danny and Wheeler prevent their young counterparts from becoming like them while they manage to save themselves in the process as well.
When Danny and Wheeler meet their little counterparts, they keep maintaining their undesirable attitudes. Danny tells Augie to ditch the cape and get back to the real world, basically urging him to become another Danny. In the same way, Augie offers Danny an armor later in the film, saying that soon he will gladly put it on. I understand this as a metaphor for the juvenile behavior necessary for every human to stay happy. Earlier, Danny is irritated by every imprecision and he absolutely hates stupidly optimistic and self-confident people. One example is the song Love Takes Me Down (To the Street) which multiple people claim to be sung by Paul McCartney and Wings. Danny refuses this. I think Danny’s constant correcting everyone is an effect of his obsession with “the reality”, the one he wants Augie to return to. What makes me include this part is the fact that the song is played during the end credit sequence by a person very much resembling Paul McCartney in voice and even in style. But Danny was right, it is not Paul McCartney. I like to interpret it in the way that it doesn’t really matter who is right, you should just enjoy the song. And also that it is a sign that you can create your own reality and your own rules.
A conflict happens when Danny refuses to embrace the role-playing game. Because of his refusal to delve into a fictional character, Augie is fired from the game. This pleases his mother and her boyfriend who is a very macho type – some kind of advanced evolutionary stage of the new lad. He used to have five girlfriends at a time and is not capable to understand Augie who belongs to the kind of kids he probably used to mock in his youth. Now that he’s grown up, he doesn’t seem to care about anything other than sex and drinking. They are optimistic that Augie is going to be “normal”. Again, we see the lack of a proper family-man role model and a family where the mother has a boyfriend for rather recreational or “laddistic” purposes. Luckily, Danny has a moment of epiphany and tells Augie to do whatever makes him happy whatever the cost. He knows who Augie would grow up to be and breaks the cycle even though he’ll face prison for not completing the Sturdy Wings program.
Meanwhile, Wheeler’s laddism is shown to have negative consequences when performed in excess. First, he gets drugged on a camping trip while hooking up with his colleague and wakes up naked in the middle of the camp. He uses Danny’s tranquilizers which may symbolize Danny’s inability to loosen up naturally. This is actually the first warning signal for both of them to change. Danny, as I already mentioned, blew his second chance and so did Wheeler when he neglected Robbie in favor of having sex. Ronnie’s mother gets angry when he walks home late at night and Wheeler is now facing prison as well. However, they are more concerned about their little friends – how they disappointed them the same way they have probably been disappointed by someone too. Wheeler doesn’t even check out a beautiful woman running past him. He cares about his friendship with Ronnie and comes back to apologize. That is a big difference in character from the definition of a new lad who doesn’t care about anything and anybody. Like Danny, he knows what would become of his counterpart, as well, if he got no help.
Towards the end, Danny finally puts on the armor and embraces the role-playing game. He was slowly getting there while spending time with Augie. He even played video games with him. His change of attitude gets him a new chance – a chance for Augie. When everybody rejects Augie, the whole gang comes for help and they create their own kingdom, their own rules – just like The Kiss whose image they adopt. They even find use for the Minotaur van – their juvenility is now desirable. They show Augie that any king binding the society with arbitrary rules can be overthrown. Augie’s mother and her boyfriend witness the power of pure joy that the role-playing game offers and notice that Augie is capable of gaining confidence and socializing within this community if he is supported properly. Even Danny finds himself enjoying the pure fun which has no purpose, or economic value. When Beth comes, she sees that Danny is willing to go to prison just so that his young friend doesn’t live life without fun and happiness and that he has rediscovered theses long lost necessities of life himself. His transformation is sealed when he sings to Beth in front of everybody and realizes that the official act of marriage will not change anything. In their article, Gill and Hansen-Miller talk about unsustainable friendship with Danny having to let go of childish friendship with Wheeler, but I see the opposite. They have to learn from each other. Earlier in the film before their transformation, we see them fight in a car, we see their prototypes clash. Only when they get cooperate, they succeed. And their characters don’t shy away from “passionate male friendship” due to “heterosexual imperatives of adulthood” as we can clearly see when Danny closes Wheeler’s eye when he “dies” on the battlefield.
Throughout the film, we see that a moderate juvenile behavior is necessary for not just a happy but also a successful life. Augie can stick to the cape and still have a fulfilled life. We see that the role-playing community is diverse and that there are people of every age and gender and that it has the potential for Augie to have a healthy social development. Wheeler stays a lad but realizes the importance of a family which he has been lacking for a very long time. I wouldn’t say the film condemned his lifestyle, except of course for when he couldn’t control it and went to extremes. But otherwise, his attitude towards women was depicted as consensual and reciprocal. He sought out women who shared this lifestyle with him, basically “female lads” who were also driven by sole pleasure. He didn’t break anybody’s heart or caused someone trouble until he neglected Ronnie – after which he learned his lesson. Furthermore, we see that nobody should be condemned with the example of the Sturdy Wings boss who used to eat cocaine for breakfast, lunch and presumably even dinner. She has changed by helping children not get lost on the way like she did, just like our protagonists. Even she has kept her flirtatious, pleasure-driven nature, and, in the end, she found her soulmate in Augie’s mother’s boyfriend Jimmy who seems to confirm to be in a voluntarily unbound relationship with “Mrs. Augie”. The message seems to be that we shouldn’t abandon simple funs that provide no profit, that by helping children find what we lost helps us find it too, and that family can have many different forms where the father can be substituted by a different type of a role model. We also shouldn’t condemn actions and relationships based only on pleasure if they don’t cause any harm and are backed by a healthy amount of responsibility.
Gill, Rosalind, and David Hansen-Miller. ““Lad Flicks”: Discursive Reconstructions of Masculinity in Popular Film.” In Feminism at the Movies, 36-49. London: Routlege, 2011.
 Rosalind Gill and David Hansen-Miller, “”Lad Flicks“: Discursive Reconstructions of Masculinity in Popular Film,” in Feminism at the Movies (London: Routledge, 2011), 40.
,3 Rosalind Gill and David Hansen-Miller, “”Lad Flicks“: Discursive Reconstructions of Masculinity in Popular Film,” in Feminism at the Movies (London: Routledge, 2011), 48.
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Role Models teach us to keep having fun
While being irresponsible 24/7 is undesirable, Role Models teach us that it is alright to cheer up and have fun sometimes.
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