Remember when you and your friends used to ride bikes and run around outside? When adventure was found outside on your pedals or the words ‘You’re It!’ evoked feelings of excitement to find the next person you are going to touch and make them the chaser? As an adult, those days seem long gone, replaced with long work weeks and happy hour sessions.
So a comedy movie about grown men still acting like little boys one month out of the year isn’t a novel concept. This comedic trope has been used too often since the early 2000s. But it’s been a while since this old trope has been executed as perfectly as it is in Tag – possibly the funniest movie of the year so far.
This review will be spoiler-free.
Based on a true story (No, this is not a joke), this comedy centers around five childhood friends (Jeremy Renner, Ed Helms, Jake Johnson, Jon Hamm, and Hannibal Buress) who every year, for one month, play tag – the classic “You’re it!” playground pasttime whose rules are the simplest, but the most fun ever. Out of the group, one has never been tagged even in their many years of playing so the others team up to tag their one friend before the month is out.
When we first meet them, the game has been going on for thirty years. Over that time, the friends have added their own arcane amendments to the game over the years, including tagging players at the most opportune or inopportune times in the most unexpected places. Since they are also separated by physical distance, this game has become a full-contact, cross-country blood sport. Tag became more than a game. It was a lifeline to what made them friends in the first place during a more innocent times of their lives. Renner’s Jerry has never been “it” and, as the movie continues on after the friends’ reunion, it’s obvious that Jerry has made the game into an art form for evading his friends. His movements are hilarious with the tactical precision of a military trained operative. With the announcements of his impending marriage and retirement of the game, Jerry thinks he will retire on top. Not so fast.
Ed Helms played the same lovable dork that he portrayed in the Hangover movies, helping audiences rediscover why we liked him in the first place. His character Hogan takes the game more seriously, his intensity only matched by his enthusiastic wife (a manic and hilarious Isla Fisher). Hamm, a corporate wheeler-dealer, drops everything to join the mission and brings along a Wall Street Journal reporter (Annabelle Wallis) to chronicle this unbelievable story. New Girl‘s Johnson places the typical resident slacker-stoner of the group, but his charm is enough to win you over. And Buress’ character, dealing with his own personal issue that we don’t revisit, spices up each situation with his dry, deadpan delivery. While these characters and actors couldn’t be less alike, their chemistry together is perfect to make the audience howl with laughter.
This movie could have easily taken a turn downwards and become a total “dude” sort of film. But director Jeff Tomsic and writers Rob McKittrick and Mark Stelin did an excellent job to assure the film didn’t feel like an all-boys club. While these guys are pathetic in their own ways, they have their charms that you can laugh at these flaws as the month-long game continues. The film is evenly paced among the hi-jinks and the touching story that lies underneath and is the undeniable heart of the film.
A normal person would ask why these group of guys continue to meet each year and playing this kids’ game after all this time – one quote is repeated: “We don’t stop playing because we get old; we get old because we stop playing.” This quote and the guys’ friendship is the core is where the magic happens in Tag. This quote is true. Among all the raunchiness, this is a sweet comedy about staying connected to those most important in your life. Tomorrow is not assured to us and time moves faster as we get older – those relationships become even more important because they know everything about you – even those things that you wished they didn’t know. It’s about being vulnerable and accepted unconditionally by those around you, especially your lifelong friends. While the rules of the game are to stay away from each other, this movie is ultimately about getting closer and staying that way.
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