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70 ★★★★★★★★★★ ✩✩✩✩✩✩✩✩✩✩ 4 Puerile Pillars of the Frat Pack Jack Black, Will Ferrell, Adam Sandler, and Ben Stiller BRENDA R. WEBER In June 2004, USA Today gifted a group of comedic actors with a name and bankable identity, the Frat Pack. Comprising a set of primarily television-turned-movie actors, including Jack Black, Will Ferrell, Adam Sandler, and Ben Stiller, the “Frat Pack” gained its currency from starring in a series of films that largely deploy fraternity-type puerile humor in stories geared toward adolescent male audiences (Susan Wloszczyna, Jack Black,Will Ferrell, Adam Sandler, and Ben Stiller. “Wilson and Vaughn: Leaders of the ‘Frat Pack,” USA Today, 15 June 2004). The Frat Pack strikes the viewer as a bunch of disaffected and directionless men who happen to be in movies, yet their likable and seemingly authentic affability is as much a carefully constructed persona as that of any other entertainment celebrity. Much of their comedic fare is a peg lower than low-brow. Diarrhea jokes and a pet ferret as toilet paper up your comedic alley? Then check out Ben Stiller in Along Came Polly (2004), in which the hapless comedian plays an uptight insurance adjuster whose persnickety need to control contingency makes him, according to the Internet Movie Database, “the most cautious man on earth.” Philip Seymour Hoffman’s symphony-of-sweat basketball scene in the same film is a masterpiece of gross-out humor, and his boorish bravado in contrast to Stiller’s germophobia is comedic genius. Viewers more inclined to enjoy the thinly disguised homophobia of male-on-male physicality could watch the first ten minutes of Ferrell’s Blades of Glory (2007)—ten minutes is plenty—where the mano-a-mano challenge between fierce ice-skating competitors played by Ferrell and Jon Heder, of Napoleon Dynamite (2004) fame, sets the rink on fire. A small sampling of their “witty” banter: CHAZZ (Ferrell): This guy could not hold my jock sweat. JIMMY (Heder): I could hold it all day long, try me! CHAZZ: Maybe I will. JIMMY: Maybe you should. CHAZZ: You challenging me, princess? JIMMY: I’m not inviting you to the Skating Federation’s annual Christmas party. CHAZZ: Then bring it on! JIMMY: It is on! Viewers with a more cosmopolitan humor palette could partake of Adam Sandler playing an Israeli elite forces agent, who fakes his own death so that he might smuggle himself to New York City and become a hairdresser with a penchant for sexing up incredibly and uncomfortably old ladies in You Don’t Mess with the Zohan (2008). (Oy, my osteoporosis!) While in New York, Sandler discovers that Palestinians and Israelis are quite capable of living side by side, given the right material incentives (in this case, stereo equipment and microwave oven stores). One strains to believe the multiple uses to which hummus can be put or how often it’s possible for Sandler to appear either naked or wearing what are fondly referred to as electric banana hammocks. PUERILE PILLARS OF THE FRAT PACK 71 Finally, it was always possible to turn to the reliably out-of-control Jack Black, who somehow seemed to explode off the screen even when playing an overweight and adorable panda trying clumsily to master an ancient martial art or make noodle soup in Kung Fu Panda (2008). Black’s Panda is remarkably similar to the overweight and obnoxious music teacher he plays in School of Rock (2003), posing as a prep school substitute teacher with hopes of earning enough money to launch his own fledgling rock ’n’ roll career. In both movies, Black’s character is mocked, challenged, and ultimately championed as he triumphantly moves from chubby underdog to portly victor. Neither exclusively concerned with sight gags and gross jokes nor completely adverse to them, the Frat Pack trades in a sort of cheerful and benign masculine moralism in which the male characters build new values, suture their ties to one another through a form of homosocial bonding endearingly termed bromance, learn lessons about themselves, life, and relationships, and become “better” men, often (and incredibly) getting the pretty girl in the end. How else could Black’s repulsive character in Shallow Hal (2001), who despises “fat chicks,” redeem himself to such a degree that an audience would buy his romantic connection to Gwyneth Paltrow? Her three-hundredpound fat suit notwithstanding, she is a beautiful Academy Award–winning actress and he’s something of a schlubby guy. And how might it be possible for...


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