'Tag' and the State of Studio Ensemble Comedies
I’ll admit that I’m enjoying the current trend of ensemble comedies aimed at adults, most notably, Game Night and Blockers. Since their budgets were kept modest, these films, along with the upcoming friendship comedy Tag, are relatively low-risk investments for studios. And because of that, these films have the freedom to try new ways to tell stories within a genre that has seen better days over the past couple of years.
The obvious hook for Tag is that it’s based on a true story about a group of friends that have been playing a literal game of tag for years. There’s a certain sweetness to the film, as the theme of Tag is about the importance of staying connected to the ones you care about. Once the set pieces are removed, it could be placed in the same category as Diner and Beautiful Girls – relationship comedies that aren’t engineered to be have big set pieces. However, Tag is clearly much more of a silly film, which is part of its charm. Now, before any judgment can be thrown at Tag, one has to look at the impressive cast: Ed Helms, Jake Johnson (a comedic actor who should be headlining comedies if we lived in a fair and just world), Rashida Jones, Hannibal Burress (who is getting raves for stealing the movie with his performance), and Isla Fisher – plus Jeremy Renner, Annabelle Wallis, and Jon Hamm, actors known more for their dramatic work. Yet what’s most remarkable about Tag is that Jason Bateman doesn’t appear in it. The “Bateman Paradox” if you will.
Why do most recent comedies feel like it’s inevitable that Jason Bateman will appear in it? A cynical person would suggest that these ensemble films have a thin concept with characters that are basically the “guy in khaki pants and a tucked-in button-down” that Jason Bateman usually plays. However, I would argue that the “Bateman paradox” is probably a thing because Bateman is a likable actor that isn’t distracting; he fits right in with a high-concept comedy.
Now, the idea that Jeremy Renner has a prominent role in Tag may not be the most inspired choice in the world, but it’s a necessary decision in order to make the film feel singular and not just another cookie-cutter comedy. And the curious decision to use CG to cover up Renner’s broken arms that he suffered on the third day of shooting will be a reason to check out the film for some (mainly: me).
So, Tag is going to be released in the middle of June, opposite a true blockbuster in The Incredibles 2. In a way though, Tag doesn’t have to put up big numbers to be a success. It’s not built to be huge, which is why it’s tailored to adults like Game Night and Blockers before it. The box office landscape for comedies has changed greatly. Comedies with true breakout potential, Deadpool 2 and The Incredibles 2 have the budgets to match – they need to find an audience or people will be fired. All Tag has to do is make over 50 million and get decent reviews and it will be considered a solid investment.
And even if Tag does fall well below those numbers, it has the unique opportunity to find respect years after its release -- just look at films like MacGruber, Dazed and Confused, Clue, and Office Space. I will admit that I’ve watched Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping over five times in the past year with the sole purpose of getting my friends and family on the same page as me. So, simply put – you can probably add that to the list.
Another appealing aspect of a film like Tag is that it doesn’t need to be feel like other comedies. Yes, there are plenty of hijinks in the trailer for Tag, but there’s also an indication of the film’s true purpose: to be a poignant statement on the difficulties of staying connected to your friends as an adult. Which is what I really liked about Blockers; even with the butt-chugging set piece, the movie was really about the emotional pratfalls that come when your kids are ready to leave the nest and become adults.
Tag is not your typical comedy, but what is anymore? With so much broad, populist comedy being injected in blockbuster animated films and superhero movies, weird and interesting comedies can still get a wide theatrical release, just don’t expect a full theatre when you’re watching.