Jane Lynch has been making people laugh since her career began, but she really became a household name in 2009 when she began playing Sue Sylvester in Fox television series Glee. Despite perhaps being most famous for her role as series regular Sue, Lynch is a talented actress who has worked her magic, time and time again, on much smaller roles. Just before Glee reached our small screens, Lynch hit the big screen in 2008’s Role Models.
Role Models is a tightly constructed comedy about finding joy, friendship and KISS. Paul Rudd plays ‘dick-in-a-rut’ Danny, dissatisfied with his job dissuading high schoolers from using drugs by selling them Minotaur energy drink. He takes this dissatisfaction out on the world, especially on his long-suffering girlfriend Beth (Elizabeth Banks). Danny’s fun- and girl-loving colleague, Wheeler (Seann William Scott), creates the perfect foil to Danny, and sets up the comedy trope of unlikely friends. One day things go horribly wrong and Danny and Wheeler have to complete 150 hours of community service, in 30 days, with a big brother-type children’s program, ‘Sturdy Wings’. This solid premise, again, is a classic comedy ingredient: two uncooperative characters have to work together to complete a task within a set amount of time.
Danny is paired with the nerdy Augie (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), and Wheeler gets bad-mouthed, ‘boobie’-obsessed Ronnie (Bobb’e J. Thompson). As convention would have it, at first no one gets along, then they do, then they fall out and then they reconcile – this is hardly a surprise. That said, Role Models is not only funny and fresh, it is also a well-made film. Director David Wain demonstrates a great understanding of pace and the film’s 90 minutes are energetic whilst also having a respect for the audience that is not always present in standard Hollywood films; Wain doesn’t milk his content or use clunky exposition.
The film’s main energy source, however, would have to be its cast. Though each actor is mostly playing to their relative typecasts, it is hard to fault their performances. Both Rudd and Scott are on form and create a great double-act. Mintz-Plasse owns his role and beautifully delivers some great lines – especially the more emotional ones. One must also make special mention of Ken Jeong; as Augie’s antagonist, King Argotron, Jeong definitely knows how to convey a special kind of pathetic crazy.
However it is Jane Lynch as the Sturdy Wings founder, Gayle Sweeney, who steals the most scenes here. What Lynch communicates so well in Role Models is the character of a reformed addict, or someone who has ‘seen the light’. Lynch perfectly satirises the preachy condescension, and earnestness, of such a person. Gayle knows “what’s up”, and of course, how to tell a “BS-er” a mile off, meaning she is always on the lookout to give Danny and Wheeler a lesson. These lessons often involve metaphor, which are often over-extended and explained, giving rise to classic moments; who could forget when she accused the guys of being addicted to selfishness by comparing it to “blow”?
Though a supporting role, Gayle is also a well-fleshed-out character, not so much because she explicitly explains her past in the Sturdy Wings introductory video, but because, as above, her past influences the type of language she uses. Lines like ‘I don’t want to be graphic but I sucked his dick for drugs’, and her amusement at her phallic-looking hot dog, call back Gayle’s past and inappropriate side. Though this may be considered more of a compliment to the film’s scriptwriters, the lines are clearly built for laughs and Lynch’s portrayal of Gayle makes them character-appropriate and thus stops the audience feeling like they are being told when to laugh. Lynch also delivers a lot of dialogue that doesn’t make much sense, something that can easily fall flat, but she masters the “cool adult” tone of voice as well as that of the mildly insane; ‘used to be addicted to pills. Now? I’m addicted to helping’, and ‘you’ll be in the slammer like M.C. Hammer’. The familiarity of that tone carries the nonsensical dialogue.
Role Models is an easy and fun watch, and is a great example of why conventions become conventions, but also how a conventionally-constructed film does not have to be tired or boring. For fans of any of the actors involved, this film is a must-see – but for those who know of Lynch as a one- or two-line actress, please watch to see what the lady can do.