You often come across the phrase a “feel good” movie. It’s funny enough, not too confrontational and gives you the warm fuzzies. Sadly these films often end up too sweet for their own good and, like candy floss, the taste doesn’t linger.
Tag IS funny, and it IS “feel good”, as it’s dedicated to the notion that friendship is a vital component of a happy life, and one worth nurturing. What Tag does well is to avoid being too saccharine, and to keep its humour sharp. While it does veer into conventional territory here and there, in the main it keeps you off stride. This makes it hugely engaging. I enjoyed it a great deal.
It centres around a story written for the Wall Street Journal in January 2013 about a group of male friends who’d kept playing tag for 23 years, for fun, and to maintain their mateship. Five years later, it’s a movie. Here, the friends have 30 years of tag behind them, the Wall Street Journal reporter is female rather than male, and doubtless other concessions to movie story-telling have been made. But the knowledge that the guts of the story actually happened gives the story a potent edge. Add to that a lively script and a cast having an excellent time, and you’ve got a winner.
At the start we meet four male friends: Hoagie (Ed Helms), Randy (Jake Johnson), Sable (Hannibal Buress) and Callahan (John Hamm). Hoagie’s wife Anna (Isla Fisher) is not formally part of this male group but really, she is. Every May, since they were at junior school, the boys/men put aside their normal lives to engage in a month long season of tag. It’s that simple. They have to touch each other to become “it”, chase after another mate, tag them, and so it goes. But there’s a decades-long hitch. One of the group, Jerry (Jeremy Renner) has never been tagged. Ever. It’s not a situation he wants to see altered, and we join the movie as another May runs around and the group of four try, yet again, to tag the supremely fit, athletic and elusive Jerry.
So the premise is simple enough, but seeing a group of adult men find their inner boy, and cherish that common bond, is indeed, for want of a better word, heartwarming. Their lives have gone in different paths, but for the month of May they reaffirm their ties, recall old battles and skirmishes, and fights over girlfriends. (One girlfriend, Cheryl – played by Rashida Jones – turns up on the scene again). There are several laugh out loud scenes of physical humour, particularly the slow motion sequences of Jerry evading being tagged. But the men’s banter is also funny – stupid, but funny. And not just funny. The story explores the give and take of friendship, often showing how the group will forgive each other their trespasses for the sake of keeping their friendship alive.
It would be easy to characterise this just as a male buddy movie but the writers are a little more clever than that. Along with Hoagie’s wife Anna, and former girlfriend Cheryl, we also have Wall Street Journal reporter Rebecca (Annabelle Wallis) and Jerry’s fiancée Susan (Leslie Bibb) who give the story a consistent female point of view.
All the cast seem to be having a whale of a time, and it’s hard to single any one out. I would mention several smaller cameos which work a treat. Lil Rel Howery, the security guard sidekick of Daniel Kaluuya in Get Out, has a brief but lovely turn as a hiring manager. Nora Dunn, as Hoagie’s mum, is hilarious in a scene where she sidles up to Randy, and Brian Dennehy is a hoot as Randy’s father.
There’s not too much to criticise. Perhaps when the comedic highs come along they are so funny that the odd gap in between does drag a touch. And, as Steve and I discussed in our last podcast over the cast of Ocean’s 8, the question of ethnicity does arise. It’s another almost all white group of men with one black friend. I’m not sure of the ethnic break down of the original group of friends upon whom the story is based, and if there was one black friend there then I apologise, but it feels like the scriptwriters wanting to cover their racial bases.
In the big picture, Tag’s positives by far outweigh these gripes. It’s the sort of film which will entertain, and which may very well have you picking up the phone later to catch up with that old friend of yours you’ve lost touch with.