Vince Vaughn plays a lovable loser. Because of course he does. He’s acted exactly twice in his life, once telling Jon Favreau he was money, and once the plagiarized version of a serial killer. I hope that Vaughn is a lovable loser in real life and that showing up to these jobs is no work at all, because if he’s actually acting in this endless cavalcade of films, that would make for a very unsatisfying bit of eternal typecasting for an actor.
Vaughn plays a guy who due to an error at a sperm bank has ended up being the father of five hundred kids. There’s also a subplot involving him owing a hundred grand to criminals, just to make sure that he’s completely impossible to relate to, sympathize with, or frankly give a damn about in any way. Montages happen, he learns very special lessons, and in the end all his problems are solved without him actually changing as a person at all.
There are some nice touches to it: one of his children is a severely disabled kid apparently abandoned in a care facility. His character’s father is an interesting and distinct character without being a caricature. The story of the children suing to find out the identity of their father, while bonding as a sort of extended family is interesting, if undeveloped. It’s a strangely unfunny movie, focusing a lot more on the drama of the situation than playing for laughs, and Vaughn himself shows a surprising amount of range. But the movie never rises above the premise anymore than Vaughn’s characters rises above being just a lovable loser.
It’s not precisely a bad movie, but it’s frustrating because it’s just well enough done to see that it could have been a much more substantial and interesting movie. But it just ends up being a sort of nothing of frippery that is trying really hard to be cute. It’s successful. It’s cute. Have a fucking gold star.
Here’s the problem. And we’re going to spin this out into a wider net. I hate the lovable loser. I don’t want him on my movie screens anymore. I certainly don’t want to see the seventeenth movie of the year featuring a fuck up of a man child whose problems are all caused by his own incompetence and laziness, while never suffering real consequences for it because he’s got charm. Take your charm and shove it up your ass.
Vaughn’s character works as a delivery man for his father’s meat delivery company. At one point his father informs him that he’s a terrible delivery man, that he takes four times as long to do the work as anyone else would, but that it’s okay because everyone who meets him loves him. Fuck off, you’re fired. I want my damned meat delivered on time.
We don’t live in a meritocracy. We never have. We live in a charismacracy. Those with more charm get ahead, regardless of whether they have the slightest talent to back it up, whether they even bother putting forth any effort at all. I doubt that will ever change, but that makes the story of people like Vaughn’s character tragic commentaries on the human condition rather than cute looks at quirky lovable losers.
There are four types of peoples in the world, the permutations of two dimensions: competence and niceness. Competent nice guys are wonderful, the best sort to have around. Incompetent assholes are also wonderful, because you just cut them out of your life with no qualms. But those other two sectors are the interesting ones. I’d much rather deal with a competent asshole day-in and day-out than an incompetent nice guy. Because the latter breaks your heart if you cut them out, and breaks the rest of your life if you don’t.
Let me split a hair here. The lovable schlub is different than the lovable loser. The schlub tries, he works his soul off trying and trying. Andy of “Parks and Rec” is a schlub. The lovable loser doesn’t try, or at least not until he gets bored and wanders off. He fucks himself over and then wants a cookie because he’s nice.
I’m being overly hard on the film I suppose. I don’t hate it. To quote one of the wisest women to ever grace television: I nothing it. I mean, it skates by making a nominal effort at saying Important Serious Things, and then not really following through at all, while being more entertaining than it deserves to be by the sheer talent of the cast involved. And then you feel bad for not giving the movie the medal it clearly wants for not actively shitting itself, because it is so charming.
I guess that means that on a meta-level the film’s quality is in itself a direct commentary on the protagonist. Whoa.
Steven Lloyd Wilson is a hopeless romantic and the last scion of Norse warriors and the forbidden elder gods. His novel, ramblings, and assorted fictions coalesce at www.burningviolin.com. You can email him here and order his novel here.