Part of what made Edgar Wright’s The World’s End so refreshing was the way that it feinted at being a certain tired sort of movie before suddenly making a wild leap in another direction. Growing Up And Other Lies, an American indie written and directed by the team of Darren Grodsky and Danny Jacobs (who previously made a little-seen feature called Humboldt County), is exactly the mediocre movie that The World’s End was pretending to be. Granted, there are four old friends instead of five, they’ve reunited for a different reason, and their mission is not a pub crawl but to walk the entire length of Manhattan, a distance of about 15 miles. But it’s still basically the same idea, minus the unexpected revelation that prevented The World’s End from coming across like a soggy, therapeutic exercise in man-child regression.
Gathering at the island’s northern tip one morning, Jake (Australian Josh Lawson, doing a spot-on American accent—foreign actors are getting much better at this), Rocks (Adam Brody), Gunderson (former Daily Show correspondent Wyatt Cenac), and Billy (co-writer and co-director Jacobs) head south, bantering all the way. Ostensibly, the trek is the final hurrah for the old gang, as Jake is leaving New York, partly to assist his ailing father and partly because he feels he needs to give up his dream of being an artist and find a real job. His friends hope to persuade him to stay, but they, predictably, have issues of their own. Rocks (ugh, that nickname) is about to become a father, but isn’t sure he’s ready, nor whether he really loves his fiancée (Lauren Miller). Billy, a hotshot lawyer, is supposed to be at work, and spends the day texting increasingly alarming reports on his condition to his boss in order to avoid being called in. And Gunderson is just a cynical asshole—the kind of guy who, invited to sign the guestbook at a child’s birthday party, writes “So you’re 8. Savor it. Life’s a shitstorm.” Further complicating matters is Jake’s obsession with his ex-girlfriend, Tabatha (Amber Tamblyn), who he’s just learned is finally single again.
All of these subplots are handled by Grodsky and Jacobs in the most tiresomely formulaic way. Every setup calls attention to itself: When Rocks’ cell phone gets broken, it’s clear that his fiancée will go into labor before the end of the day; when Billy casually mentions that he knows where they can find a bottle of wine, because they’re near his office, it’s just a matter of time before he runs into his boss. (The resolution of that particular drama is nicely done, though.) Nor is the fellas’ badinage especially witty—nobody goes to indie films to hear a reference to Heathcliff and Cathy followed by “I was always more of a Garfield man, myself.” Cenac gives the most entertaining performance, but at the expense of making Gunderson so irredeemably obnoxious that it’s impossible to believe he’d have any friends. Growing Up works best as a virtual tour of Manhattan, hitting some standard stops (the Cathedral Of Saint John The Divine, Central Park) but also straying into neighborhoods that show up in movies less frequently. Even then, though, it’s hard not to wish that the supporting characters would be revealed as killer androids.