Top 10 Films takes a look at ten great examples of the “male adventure in self discovery” movie, a genre about coming-of-age later in life…
I saw a common theme in some of my favourite movies: male characters, ranging in age, who have come to a crossroads. In many cases they are successful; they have a wife and kids, money and prosperity, a nice car and a big house. But something is missing.
The Male Adventure in Self-Discovery has to thank the coming-of-age drama for many of its themes, but it also has links with the yuppie-in-peril movie that became very popular during the 1980s.
These films see men disillusioned with their lives. Although they don’t know what is missing, they set out, often unwittingly, to discover it. These adventures tend to focus on seemingly innocuous situations that begin to spiral out of control. And they are often instigated by a beautiful but mysterious woman. The journey, in most cases, is both a physical one that involves travel and a metaphorical one, where the protagonist goes from one state of mind to another. The answers are never straightforward but along the journey these characters find elements of their personalities they did not know they had.
10. About Schmidt (Payne, 2002)Jack Nicholson plays Warren Schmidt who sets out on a journey of self-discovery in his Winnebago motor home. Director Alexander Payne has made this sub-genre his own as another of his films – Sideways – also appears on this list. Shortly after retiring, Warren’s wife dies, leaving him alone. He decides to drive from Omaha in Nebraska to his daughter’s home in Denver to persuade her that her fiancé is no good for her. About Schmidt is a wonderfully moving and heartfelt drama, with a measured and downtrodden performance from Nicholson who appears in his element playing the broken old man Warren Schmidt. Kathy Bates is also excellent in a small role.
9. Wonder Boys (Hansen, 2000)Wonder Boys was a financial disaster at the box office – twice. I can’t understand why as I’ve always seen it as a perceptive and funny story of unusual and eccentric characters finding themselves. Michael Douglas leads the way as grumpy writer and teacher Grady Tripp.
8. Naked (Leigh, 1993)A sharp and powerful dissection of class and society in 1990s Britain sees Johnny (David Thewlis) leave England’s north-west for London where he throws his mental superiority at anyone who happens across his path. This egotistical and sadistic individual avoids being completely hated by the audience through his dogged determination to make sense of the world around him.
7. Let It Ride (Pytka, 1989)Richard Dreyfuss has a journey of self-discovery through gambling. Not the most innocent of ways to bring out the virtues of character but Let It Ride is so gleefully entertaining that it doesn’t matter. This is about having the luckiest day of your life. Dreyfuss is Jay Trotter, a down on his luck compulsive gambler, who spends a full day at the races where every bet he places ends up winning. It’s a funny, endearing film with an assortment of unconventional characters.
6. Sideways (Payne, 2004)One of the best films of the 2000s, Alexander Payne’s brilliant Sideways sees Paul Giamatti’s Miles Raymond travelling around California’s vineyards with his best friend Jack. Miles is anticipating a call from his agent regarding his book being published, while Jack wants to have one final fling before he gets married. Giamatti is perfect in the role of Miles, a miserable, self-defeating writer who hasn’t recovered from his divorce. As Miles and Jack drink wine, talk about the virtues of love, sex, women, careers and golf, all the while visiting some wonderful locations in the Santa Ynez Valley, the two learn from each other to overcome their individual flaws.
5. Withnail and I (Robinson, 1986)Like Sideways, Withnail and I concerns two men journeying along the path of self-discovery together, this time in a very British setting. Withnail (Richard E. Grant) and his friend, referred to as “I” (Paul McGann), are a pair of unemployed actors who live in a grotty flat in Camden Town, London. They obtain the key to a holiday cottage in the north of England from Withnail’s uncle.
4. The Graduate (Nichols, 1967)Dustin Hoffman is Benjamin Braddock in Mike Nichols’ superb The Graduate. Benjamin comes from a wealthy background, has had a good education, and recently graduated from university. But he’s stuck. He’s bored with life and doesn’t know which direction to head off in. He feels suffocated by his overbearing parents and their rich friends. Everyone knows what Benjamin should do in life apart from him. That’s when he meets Mrs Robinson (Anne Bankcroft), the beautiful wife of one of his parent’s friends. She’s care-free and alluring, and Benjamin is immediately attracted to her. He may have found someone who doesn’t dictate his life to him. And, he may also have found someone who might reciprocate the sexual urge he has for her.
3. Something Wild (Demme, 1986)Charles Driggs (Jeff Daniels) is a New York businessman. He feels his life lacks excitement. That is until the sexy Audrey (Melanie Griffith) walks into his life, a larger-than-life girl with a penchant for fast-living and kinky sex. She takes Charles on a series of misadventures until her ex-husband turns up to spoil the party.
2. After Hours (Scorsese, 1985)My favourite Martin Scorsese movie sees bored office worker Paul Hackett finding himself on a strange night time adventure in a seemingly quiet neighbourhood of New York City. Firstly, he meets Marcy (Rosanna Arquette) who he finds attractive. In an attempt to get to know her better he says he will buy some plaster of Paris paperweights her housemate makes. This begins a long night of misadventures as Paul meets an assortment of strange yet wonderful characters.
1. Into The Night (Landis, 1985)
John Landis’ hugely underrated Into The Night is the epitome of the male adventure in self-discovery. Starring Jeff Goldblum as insomniac Ed Okin, the film follows the thirty-something depressive as he unwittingly enters into a dusk until dawn adventure involving diamonds, the Iranian secret service, a British hit-man (played brilliantly by David Bowie), and the beautiful seductress Diana (Michelle Pfeiffer). Ed has the wife at home, the job in the city, and the house, but he isn’t happy. Again, it is a mysterious woman that draws him out of his shell.
Written and compiled by Daniel Stephens
Over to you: what are your top male adventures in self discovery?
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