Monday, December 7, 2015

Book Release Announcement: I Won't Grow Up!: The Comic Man-Child in Film from 1901 to the Present

I am proud to announce the release of my new book, I Won't Grow Up!: The Comic Man-Child in Film from 1901 to the Present.

The man-child has been an enduring subject of film comedy.  He is an archetype as old as filmmaking itself.  But he was not born fully formed.  It took the social factors of many decades to form the features, conditions and habits of this foolish character as we know him today.

The full-fledged man-child has, in his open and willful defiance of maturity, come under fervent scrutiny in recent years.  Prominent film critics, including David Denby and A. O. Scott, have questioned the meaning of the modern comedian behaving in shamelessly childish ways.  The book provides a comprehensive examination of film comedy's man-child.  It traces the evolution of this immature clown from AndrĂ© Deed, who debuted on screen in 1901, to Seth Rogen.

Classic comedies as diverse as Hail the Conquering Hero and The Apartment have relied on the maturity theme to establish a central character arc and provide lessons on the importance of growing up.  The book manages, in its examination of changing cultural attitudes about maturity, to explain what it means to be an adult and what it means to be a child and how those two things are becoming increasingly confused.

Jack Lemmon in The Apartment (1960)
The book begins by examining the work of the iconic film comedians, including Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, Charlie Chaplin, Harry Langdon, Charley Chase, The Marx Brothers, Laurel and Hardy, The Three Stooges, Abbott and Costello, Jerry Lewis, and Bob Hope.  But the book also surveys many comedy films of more recent years. 

The book winds through the decades, finding films that define the man-child trend for every era.  A wide variety of topics are addressed during the course of the discussion.  The childish ways of the rich son has been a prime subject of comedy throughout film history.  The book sheds light on this subject by examining The Navigator (1924), A New Leaf (1971), Arthur (1981), Billy Madison (1995), and About a Boy (2002).

Other comedies drew laughs by following the man-child as he left home and stumbled through the wide world.  Among the many films in this category are Up in Smoke (1978), The Jerk (1979), Being There (1979) and Elf (2003).

The book provides a comparison of various regression comedies, including Monkey Business (1952), 10 (1979), Hook (1991), Mother (1996), Momma's Man (2008), The Hangover (2009) and Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star (2003).

The same maturity dilemmas that have beleaguered the man-child have affected women in films.  Film history has brought forth  many examples of the woman-child.  Certainly, the first popular woman-child was Mary Pickford.

She was free-spirited and mischievous in her films.  Her antics invariably frustrated her caretakers.

The above image is from a 1917 film, The Poor Little Rich Girl.  Pickford is still free-spirited and mischievous five years later in Tess of the Storm (1922).

But Pickford played actual little girls.  "The Girl with the Golden Curls," as the actress was known, was 25-years-old when she played an 11-year-old girl in The Poor Little Rich Girl.

In the 1920s, Colleen Moore was an actual young woman who had long abandoned her dolls to navigate her way into the grown-up world. 

Ginger Rogers assumed Moore's role in the 1940s.  Here, Rogers performs one of many girlish roles in Kitty Foyle (1940).

Rogers sorted through girlish fantasies in Lady in the Dark (1944).

Modern filmmakers have delved even further into these types of stories.  Muriel's Wedding (1994) depicts a young woman whose fantasies get the better of her.  Muriel (Toni Collette), who dreams of an extravagant wedding, cannot see past the frills and flashiness of the ceremony to comprehend the seriousness of marriage.

Scarlett Johansson and Thora Birch are nervous and uncertain about what the future holds for them in Ghost World (2001).

A quarterlife crisis is the focus of Laggies (2014).  Although she has earned two college degrees, underachiever Megan Burch (Keira Knightley) resigns herself to working as a sign spinner for her dad's accounting firm.

It is a trend that is likely to continue.

Silent comedy films depicted beautifully romantic courtships in which the boy and girl happily ended up together.


Yes, this is Harold Lloyd getting the girl before the final fade out.


But what could we expect to happen after the courtship?  Marriage only served to introduce greater challenges.  Movie couples have long had to struggle together to assume their adult responsibilities as both husband and wife and father and mother.

A chapter titled "Jack and Jill" explores this topic with a look at Neighbors, Away We Go (2009), This is 40 (2012), Sex Tape (2014) and While We're Young (2015).

Could the comic fool be a responsible and loving parent?

Lloyd would overcome any obstacle on his way to the altar.

But he was easily overwhelmed by in-law relations and child care.

This is especially evident in I Do (1921).

Let's see exactly how his bottle efforts turn out.


Chaplin, however, made a perfectly fine father in The Kid (1921).

Last year, we saw Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne as frightened new parents in Neighbors (2014).

This is an entire subgenre of comedy today.

Seth Rogen and Katherine Heigl in Knocked Up (2007)
John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph in Away We Go (2009)
Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts in While We're Young (2015)
I invite you to read more on this subject by purchasing my book from Amazon

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