Set in 1998, the decade that began pop culture’s fragmentation, Fanboys finds comedy in movie fanaticism. Four Ohio-bred, post-high school Star Wars geeks—Eric (Sam Huntington), Linus (Chris Marquette), Hutch (Dan Fogler), Windows (Jay Baruchel) and a smart tag-along female—make a pilgrimage to Skywalker Ranch, the new Mecca. That may sound trivial, but something’s genuine in the esoterica Fanboys explores: Fights with Star Trek fans (“trekkies” vs. “trekkers” vs. “Lucashounds”); reckless encounters with the adult world (cops, drugs, prostitutes); and diehard devotion to a less-than-serious movie franchise.
Dull social commentators compare it to a religion, but Fanboys commemorates how crazily fans anticipated the opening of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. Impatience about George Lucas’ continuation of the series reveals the camaraderie within their pop infatuation. Despite a solemn plot motivation that reunites Eric and Linus after a couple years of post-graduation estrangement, Fanboys is actually about the sweetness of innocuous/inane adolescent passion. Director Kyle Newman satirizes geek erudition as a common cultural trait. Eric, Linus and their pals balance childishness with rebellion; their resistance to growing up is recognizable and sweet—truer than the sappy bonhomie of crude, tasteless Superbad.
Although the very title Fanboys designates the wave of cultural elitism that makes certain film fans obnoxious and frightening, Fanboys offers democratic counterpoint to snobbish cinephilia. Post-boomer culture gave way to an arrogant generation—posed somewhere between pinheads and philosophers—who fragmented into trivial subcultures and hierarchies. Only Alex Cox’s Searchers 2.0 is sharper about this phenomenon, yet it remains the best unreleased movie of 2008.
Beginning in 1977, Star Wars was the last such watershed movie event; it achieved what the lugubrious Lord of the Rings trilogy never has: a true following. LOTR simply proved a later era’s subjugation to hype and commerce. Ironically, some Star Wars faithful did cross over to that dark side, demonstrating what critic Gregory Solman identified as the false maturity of fickle-minded consumerism. (That’s why people who once thrilled to Chewbacca were unreasonably irritated by Jar Jar Binks.)
Screenwriters Ernest Cline and Adam F. Goldberg unpretentiously show fan mania represents a desire for meaning among modernist, post-religion groups. Star Wars itself isn’t rich or beautiful enough to express this yearning; fans had to meet it three-quarters of the way. Their connection to pop culture is different from previous identification with rebel heroes and role models in decades. Star Wars mania is a symptom of both lost faith and bad education; yet, as Linus tells Eric: “This was never about the movies but about all of us.”
It ain’t exactly art-appreciation, but it’s something, and the cult-worthy icons—from the great Danny Trejo and Billy Dee Williams to Seth Rogen and Danny McBride—who pop up throughout Fanboys (including Kristin Bell’s Zoe, an uncanny tribute to small-town Parker Poseys) testify to the desire for meaning. It’s like a Star Wars dream—but funny. Hard to imagine better comedy this year than the Menudo, Fu-Shnickens and Rush references. Fanboys amasses the disparate cultural artifacts that paradoxically occupy our consciousness. Sampling Rush’s “Tom Sawyer” says it all: “Catch the mist/Catch the myth/Catch the mystery/Catch the drift.” It’s a ticklish footnote to the Star Wars phenomenon.
Directed by Kyle Newman, Running Time: 90 min.
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