Tag Review – The it crowd

John Hamm, Ed Helms and Jake Johnson in Tag

Tag, the film about a group of adults who keep their childhood friendship alive by continuing to play the same childhood game long past everyone else stopped, has a lot to say about the game. We get scenes of strategizing, complex plans being sprung into action, countermeasures being sprung. Our characters explain to us the logistics of keeping the tradition going, and the improbable scheduling that allows them to hang onto it while maintaining mostly functional lives.

We get a lot of tag in this joint and disappointingly little friendship. Like, that what’s supposed to be at the centre of the film, the reason that this story is supposedly being told is roundly ignored. Until the end, of course, when it tries to spring on us an emotional resolution that the rest of the film has done none of the groundwork for.

It’s due to the structure mostly. The film posits a scenario where four of the players finally have their best ever chance to get the one man they were never able to catch. It’ll be a wedding ambush. Ed Helms, Jake Johnson, Hannibal Buress and Jon Hamm teaming up to snag Jeremy Renner on the week leading up to his nuptials. As expected though, the man who has dedicated a huge portion of his life to not being caught may have put some contingencies in place to avoid this very possibility.

So the film becomes one that finds its ground in alienation. It’s most strongly typified in their regular visits to this hometown bar. It’s tended by another childhood friend, played by the wonderful Steve Berg, who they are insistent must not be involved in the play. It models a form of friendship based on exclusion, rather than acceptance. Reinforces the masculine insecurity around social bonding and intimacy.

By giving these characters a defined goal, the film distances us from their inner lives. It is made to be a film about actions, about the phyicalisation of frustrated emotion. I guess in a way that makes it an entirely fitting reflection of the contemporary struggles that men face. But the film is confused, it doesn’t know how to reconcile this form of bonding with the sense of emotional truth that it wants to impart in its conclusion.

For example, one of our leads remarks that Renner’s character’s commitment to the winning has frustrated their chance at a true connection. They learn things about his life which shock them, they realise that he may be a different person than the one that they thought they knew. Yet the possibility is never acknowledged that, due to the axis of their friendship being abstracted through the game, his commitment to it is also a commitment to them. He is, in a way that the rest of the cast are not, truly accepting of the performative nature of their connection.

Because, what do the others do? They don’t talk about themselves, they don’t discuss their lives. Despite all of them at markedly different stages in their lives they engage in the creation of this egalitarian space. One in which their differences are irrelevant and so do not need confronting. The existence of such a space is a comfort, yet also a fiction. We see how it is demolished, yet never fully reckon with either its benefits, or what the shape of a more healthy future will be.

Outside of all that, it’s pretty funny. I am in love with comedy John Hamm. I mean, the dude has been doing it his whole career, but he has that Terry Crews or Alec Baldwin quality. His body is so specifically not a funny one, his handsomeness is so acute that making him a goof seems like you’re going against nature. It’s wonderful. Renner gets fewer jokes, it’s more of a meta thing; ‘Can you believe he’s in this?’ It’s a fine gag but I’d have wanted more.

It’s the women who get the shortest shrift. The rules say No Girls Allowed and the film struggles with finding them things to do. Annabelle Wallis is a journalist covering the events who exists just about solely as an exposition machine. Rashida Jones is wasted on a totally unremarkable character who is even textually dropped in to cause strife between the boys. Isla Fisher gets the most, being her husband’s cheerleader and greatest ally but struggles to bring nuance to a role that asks her to repeat the same note over and over.

That ain’t a her problem though, it’s one present with just about all the characters throughout the joint. It leads into the concept of high-concept so hard that we just don’t have time to spend with the characters at rest to properly feel them out. I chatted far too long above about the flaws in how it conceptualises its premise.

The truth is outside of that there’s not enough care, not enough detailing, not enough insight, to keep it afloat. Everyone always is asking, ‘Who is it?’ nobody ever asks ‘How is it?’

Tag is currently screening in UK cinemas.

Image courtesy of Warner Bros.


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