A little premature.
(Due Date, Todd Phillips, USA, 2010, 100 mins)
[Warning: this review contains spoilers regarding the plot]
Todd Phillips’ shoulders must surely be weighted from the expectations of eager audiences since his successful comedy The Hangover (2009) that witnessed the road trip of three friends and their groom-to-be buddy.
Phillips has once again used the road trip narrative with the inevitable deadline from Atlanta to Los Angeles; a whole one hundred minutes of non-stop action between effeminate Ethan (Zach Galifianakis) and pessimistic Peter (Robert Downey Jr.), who have been taken off the fly list and must find a way to get to Peter’s wife Sarah (the beautiful Michelle Monaghan) who is due to give birth. This fantastic cast have been paired with an undemanding narrative, however, Galifianakis has once again become the star of the screen and taken up characteristics similar to that of Alan from The Hangover; careful attention to detail on his appearance, the “camp” walk, and childish motives that suggest that he still needs looking after.
Due Date isn’t all comedy; there are a handful of serious moments that catch the audience off-guard, as this collision of opposite personalities attempt to bond on their journey. Ethan’s carefree approach to their relationship soon brings out Robert Downey Jr.’s signature sarcasm, witnessed in Tony Stark throughout Iron Man (2008) and its sequel, providing the most amusing moments in the film, as creepy and childish is pitted against explosions of anger and a gradual lack of trust. These emotional moments could arguably be completely out of place when compared to Phillips’ usual style of humorous moments delivered repeatedly with a lack of affectionate instants.
The two characters attempt to connect on their mutual experiences, the lack of a father figure and father and son issues. Throughout the film we learn of Ethan’s heartache as he carries his father’s ashes around in a coffee can with the intention of spreading the ashes at the Grand Canyon, and in one sentimental scene Peter confesses the morning his father walked out on the family, to which Ethan laughs hysterically and replies, “That’s so funny! My dad would never do that. He’d love me”. The audience’s connection with either character could potentially be quite strenuous, as they prove to be so different, making it hard to relate to either man’s situation. The deadline theme coincides with the pressure Ethan feels to spread his father’s ashes to release an old life and the desperation Peter feels to get home for the birth of new life.
A few years ago Zach Galifianakis was not a well-known actor, and after watching Due Date it is curious whether everyone’s thinking the same thing – can this man take on any other role? There is no doubt his ability to be a comical figure is apparent, nevertheless his charm is beginning to diminish. Robert Downey Jr. on the other hand delivers a comical performance similar to that of his African American character Kirk Lazarus from Tropic Thunder (2008); although the unpredictable moment in Due Date when Peter spits on Sonny the French bulldog and punches a child in the stomach were almost atrocious. The father issues within the film are reflected through Peter’s anger, where at one point he says to the can in reference to Ethan “You should have strangled him at birth”. Phillips seems to have gone from one extreme to another by replacing the baby Alan is so attached to in The Hangover with Sonny the bulldog; he has gone from making a baby masturbate to a bulldog masturbating and has unconsciously begun to push the boundaries of comedy. He is risking the illustration of situations that could easily offend some older audiences who may not be as appreciative of the hilarity. Despite this, Sonny the dog does bring added absurdity to the film; he could almost be a third human character.
The balance is found through the cinematography, a stunning visual adventure particularly at the Grand Canyon which Ethan thought was “man-made”. This point in the film provides emphasis on the theme of self-discovery; as Galifianakis brings us to an emotional peak in the film, Phillips has even made the look of Ethan’s father’s ashes in the wind appear dramatic. The scene in which their car flips and crashes is aesthetically pleasing, as Phillips has slowed the movements right down for the audience to appreciate the facial expressions of both lead characters. Phillips’ application of comedy in Due Date initiates controversy over anticipation of The Hangover 2, due in cinemas next year. Will audiences still anticipate the sequel of one of Phillips’ more successful films after Due Date, which seems to have just bridged the gap for impatient audiences?