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Film / Step Brothers

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"Families is where our nation finds hope, where wings take dream."
— actual quote from George W. Bush

Step Brothers is a 2008 movie directed by Adam McKay, produced by Judd Apatow and starring Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly (who both wrote the script with McKay), where two slacker adult children, Dale Doback (Reilly) and Brennan Huff (Ferrell), are forced to live with each other when their parents get married, after a Freudian Slip by Dr. Robert Doback (Richard Jenkins). Hilarity Ensues as they become best friends after suffering from hilarious hijinks, committing beautiful singing and rightful child abuse (they deserve it in context).

This film includes examples of:

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  • Abusive Offspring: Both Dale and Brennan are quite demanding, disrespectful, and ungrateful towards their parents. At one point, Brennan considers sending his mom to a nursing home.
  • Actor Allusion: Travis T. Flory is the The Dragon to bully Chris Gardocki. It would seem he's found his new target.
  • A-Cup Angst: Tiffany, Derek's daughter and Brennan's niece, wants breast implants. At age eight.
  • Actually Quite Catchy: Nancy admits that she joined in on the other parents singing along to "Brennan Has A Mangina" when Derek crashed Brennan's talent show number in high school.
  • All Work vs. All Play: Robert, Nancy, and Derek are All Work while Brennan and Dale are All Play (although Dale merely thinks he's just as focused and hardworking as his dad is). At the movie's ending, Brennan and Dale managed to combine the two, since they started what sounds to be a pretty successful karaoke business.
  • Alliterative Name: Dale Doback.
  • Annoying Younger Sibling. Derek is a rare adult example, constantly getting on the nerves of Brennan (and Dale) with his condescending, pretentious attitude.
  • Awesome Music: In-universe, the brothers think their first company's music video is this. It's a misogynistic, terribly-rhymed piece of trash filmed with hookers.
  • Ax-Crazy: Derek's dragon Randy (Rob Riggle), who ate a man's penis "like Kobayashi" while safe within international waters.
  • Basement-Dweller: Dale and Brennan still live with their parents (Dale with his widowed father; Brennan with his divorced mother) and have little in the way of maturity.
  • Berserk Button: Don't ever, ever, ever touch Dale's drum set. Especially with your testicles.
  • Big Brother Bully: Little brother bully, in this case, with Derek.
  • Big "WHAT?!":
    • Brennan and Dale yell this when their television privileges were taken.
    • Dale yells this when he and Brennan learned they became best friends.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Derek.
  • Black Comedy Rape: When the brothers first fight over the drums, Brennan claims Dale was trying to rape him.
    Nancy: You yelled "rape" at the top of your lungs.
    Brennan: Mom, I honestly thought I was gonna be raped for a second. He had the craziest look in his eyes. And at one point he said, "Let's get it on."
    Dale: That was about the fighting. I am so not a raper!
  • Blended Family Drama: A middle-aged variation, starring two manchildren who now have to learn to live with each other after their single parents get married.
  • Bromantic Comedy: Literally.
  • The Bully: Derek, and the schoolkids that beat up Dale and Brennan.
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Derek, despite his egotism and immaturity, is a very successful businessman.
  • Business of Generic Importance: Dale and Brennan decide that instead of getting jobs, they'll create their own business called "Prestige Worldwide". However, they have no clue what it is that their business does; in their business presentation, they claim to work in entertainment, management, financial portfolios, insurance computers (and black leather gloves), research and development, and security. This is subverted at the end when they turn Prestige Worldwide into a karaoke business.
  • Butt-Monkey: Robert.
  • The Cameo: By Seth Rogen, Phil LaMarr, and Ken Jeong.
  • Character Signature Song: Done subtly with "Ice Ice Baby" by Vanilla Ice for Derek. Brennan's Start of Darkness began when Derek humiliated him at a school talent show, then stole the show with a lip-sync of the song and, later, used the motto, "My homes are nice nice baby", for his successful real estate business. In one scene where he's up to no good, the film's music score even plays a variation on the melody.
  • Cloud Cuckoolander: Alice — justified because she's in a miserable marriage with a complete douchebag of a husband.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: The film is unnecessarily littered with these. Justified, due to the fact that Brennan and Dale are refusing to grow up.
  • Coattail-Riding Relative: When talking about their sons, Robert tells Nancy that Dale is a coaster who thinks his medical career is a family business he can join in on. Which makes it funnier when Dale later accuses Brennan of being a layabout who lives in a fantasy land and refuses to get a job.
  • Coming of Age Story: Played not quite straight. While Brennan and Dale do grow up mentally and emotionally, it's revealed in the end that they have partially returned to their childlike ways.
  • The Corrupter: Derek actually makes Robert into more of an asshole just by proximity.
  • Cringe Comedy: Particularly near the start when the two main characters are still acting like their Manchild-selves. Noteworthy examples being where they moan about losing TV privileges and excitedly asking for permission to build a bunk bed. Also Brennan deluding himself into believing that Denise, his attractive therapist, is his soulmate swings pretty hard into this. However, it’s ultimately revealed that Denise was secretly lusting for Brennan all along but withheld her affection for the sake of professionalism. She unconvincingly tries to deny it even after Nancy calls her bluff. At the end of the film, Brennan and Denise are shown to be dating .
  • Crippling Overspecialization: Brennan hires a Billy Joel cover band that only plays his 1980s catalogue for the Catalina Wine Mixer. This leads to problems when the crowd keeps demanding songs like "Piano Man" or "The Stranger".
  • December–December Romance: Robert Doback (played by Richard Jenkins, who was born in 1947), falls for Nancy Huff (played by Mary Steenburgen, who was born in 1953).
  • Didn't Think This Through: Brennan and Dale got everything they needed for their music video except for one crucial detail: someone to drive the boat while they performed.
  • Disappointing Older Sibling: Brennan is this to Derek. Interestingly, Derek himself caused it to happen, considering that he sabotaged and then upstaged Brennan's talent show performance (the latter of which he did by cheating). Both of which broke Brennan's confidence so badly that he turned into the hedonistic overgrown teenager he is now. Derek doesn't seem to acknowledge this.
  • Disproportionate Retribution:
    • After already making it clear that he'll fire Brennan if he screws up the Catalina Wine Mixer, Derek takes it even further and says he'll have his Yes-Man Randy eat Brennan's dick.
    • Derek also fires Brennan after the lead singer of the cover band he hired leaves in a huff after being heckled.
  • Distracted by the Sexy: Happens to Robert when he first meets Nancy while trying to give a presentation on hearing aids.
  • Domestic Abuse: Derek is never physically abusive, but he's a verbal monster to his wife and brothers.
  • Don't Make Me Take My Belt Off!: After Brennan acts like a brat one too many times, Robert gives him a barehand spanking, and when Dale tries to intervene, he threatens, "You're next, mister!" Dale immediately (and timidly) backs down and watches in horror.
  • Double Standard Rape: Female on Male: Applies at least the first time Alice has sex with Dale... in which she coerces him by cornering him in the men's room. It ends with him telling her thinks she's incredible. Although stunned by the surprise encounter, he seems pretty unfazed by the fact that he was pretty much just raped. Later, as shown in the unrated edition, they have a somewhat more mutually consensual encounter — it seems at that point he has the option of escaping but chooses otherwise.
  • Double Standard: Violence, Child on Adult: After a series of bad job interviews, Dale and Brennan are bullied by a group of middle school children, and it's played for laughs despite how miserable they obviously are. They exact revenge at the end of the movie, attacking the entire school and beating them up so mercilessly that it stays funny.
  • Drowning My Sorrows: Dale and Brennan eventually drive Robert to this.
  • Entitled Bastard: The duo demands their $10,000 check, even after remorselessly destroying Robert's boat.
  • Epic Fail:
    • Brennan and Dale's makeshift bunk bed, which falls apart the second Dale climbs in bed. Amazingly, Brennan only gets a few minor scratches.
    • The job interview montage. Dale and Brennan fuck up every interview in the worst and most hilarious way possible. Even when they actually get hired, Dale manages to ruin it with a very potent fart.
    • Also, the "Prestige Worldwide" presentation, which ends in Dale and Brennan crashing Robert's boat during their music video.
  • Establishing Character Moment: Derek has four. He ruined Brennan's talent show performance before lip-syncing to Vanilla Ice. Later, he bullies his family into a perfectionist Guns N' Roses tribute on a car ride. Those two moments would suffice for establishing what a dick he is, but it gets worse. During Christmas dinner, he brags about hitting a deer with his car, and at one point, he even brags about how he chose a fishing trip over his own mother's wedding.
  • Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: Derek does love his mother, albeit in his own profoundly assholish way.
  • Even the Guys Want Him: Both Brennan and Dale say they would sleep with John Stamos if they were a chick.
  • Everyone Has Standards:
    • Near the ending, when Robert is convincing Dale and Brennan to save the Catalina Wine Mixer with their singing and drumming skills, he admits to them that he was like them when he was younger. Specifically, he wanted to be a dinosaur and acted like one until he was seventeen and his own father told him to stop; he decided to become a doctor and then go back to the dinosaur thing, but regretfully found that he couldn't do it like he did anymore. Dale and Brennan, despite being delusional, 40-something man-children think that Robert's dream is impossible and insane compared to their own dreams.
    • After that weird part, Robert then admits to the boys that while he hates their buffoonery, he hates more how unhappy they are trying to be adults and working in jobs they hate.
  • Extreme Doormat:
    • Nancy is the definition of an enabling mother. Not just to Dale and Brennan, but also to Derek, as shown when she allowed him to wreck Brennan's talent show performance in high school.
    • Alice is trapped in an unhappy marriage as Derek's long-suffering wife. Say what you will about her affair with Dale, but you can't blame her for being so miserable and wanting a way out. But she'd rather blow off steam by secretly screwing Derek's stepbrother than file divorce papers and try to face her husband down in court.
  • Fantasy-Forbidding Father: Justified in that the two main characters are middle-aged and should be beyond such things.
  • Five-Second Foreshadowing: Robert is sitting through his sons' terrible music video filmed on his boat before a very important question hits him:
    Robert: Wait a minute... who's steering the boat?
    Dale: Dad, please shut up.
    Brennan: PLEASE SHUT UP!
    [the boat crashes ashore on camera]
  • Flashback: One about Brennan and Derek's school performances and later about the two flying a kite.
  • Flashback Effects: The school performance flashback looks like a grainy old home video.
  • For Science!: One of Prestige Worldwide's stated goals.
    Brennan:Last week, we put liquid paper on a bee. And it died.
  • Freudian Excuse: Brennan is a Manchild due to having his Jerkass brother getting the entire school to sing "BRENNAN HAS A MANGINA" during his school performance. Even the parents and faculty joined in. And his mother.
  • Freudian Slip
  • Growing Up Sucks: Most of the movie is played straight, with Brennan and Dale refusing to get jobs because of how comfortable they are continuing to live off of their parents. However, it does become subverted when the two come to terms with the fact that they have to become functioning adults, whether or not they want to. Brennan even outright asks his therapist "How do I be an adult?"

  • Happy Flashback: Near the end when Derek reminisces about him and his brother as children.
  • Heel–Face Turn: After witnessing Brennan singing, Derek has an emotional breakthrough and becomes less of a dick.
  • Hilariously Abusive Childhood: Not only did Nancy let Derek ruin Brennan's talent show performance by singing "Brennan has a mangina", but she actually joined in singing it.
  • Hope Spot: After two disastrous interviews, Brennan and Dale interview with a jersey-wearing man played by Seth Rogen. He actually likes them pretty well, as he's only looking for someone fun to hang out with and he finds their irreverent attitude and tuxedo stunt genuinely amusing. It looks like they've got the job, but then Dale loudly farts, ruining everything.
  • Improvised Weapon: Brennan and Dale fight each other with baseball bats, golf clubs, and even a bicycle.
  • I Need a Freaking Drink: Robert's response to Brennan and Dale's Christmas antics is to go have a drink at the Cheesecake Factory.
  • Informed Attribute: Brennan's singing is awe inspiring in universe, but to viewers it's obvious that his voice is completely unexceptional.
  • Insistent Terminology: Brennan was laid off from his job at PetSmart, not let go.
  • Irony: In-Universe, a casual job interviewer believes Brennan and Dale wear tuxedos for the occasion, ironically, to make fun of how serious job interviews typically are.
  • Jerkass:
    • Derek is an obnoxious, showboating bully whose own wife despises him. He becomes a Jerk with a Heart of Gold after Brennan's singing reminds him of the better bonding times they had together in childhood.
    • Dale and Brennan themselves destroy the lives of their parents out of their own self-involved entitlement and complete inability to function as human beings.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Derek is undoubtably a complete Jerkass, but he wasn't wrong to call the two 'dickheads' since their selfish, destructive behavior has caused endless problems for the household.
  • Karma Houdini: According to Derek, he's seen Randy eat another man's penis, but because it occurred in international waters, he never faced prosecution.
  • Kids Are Cruel: The kids led by Chris Gardocki who beat up Dale and Brennan and force Brennan to lick a dog turd. Dale and Brennan get their revenge in the end.
    Dale: You know in that one scene in The Wizard of Oz when the flying monkeys pull apart the scarecrow? That's what it was like.
  • Large Ham: Many characters, but especially Randy, Derek’s best friend and employee, who yells POW!! to punctuate Derek's sentences. He also mimes eating a man's penis, in a frantic manner.
  • Law of Inverse Fertility: Averted, for once. Despite Alice & Dale's affair, it's never hinted that Alice could have become pregnant, even though that might seem like prime gag fodder for a comedy like this. Possibly justified since the two involved are at least middle-aged...
  • Manchild: The Movie: Both Brennan and Dale are this to the extreme, being 40-somethings who still live with their parents and act like 8-year-olds. It later turns out Derek, despite being successful, is just as childish and immature as the boys — just in a different manner. Dr. Doback also reveals he still pretended to be a dinosaur at the age of seventeen.
  • Mighty Lumberjack: Denise's Imagine Spot of Brennan while he sings "Por Ti Volaré".
  • Minor Injury Overreaction: After Brennan gets crushed in between the "bunk beds," Dale immediately runs to their parents' room, frantically crying and screaming, "It's bad! It's so bad! There's blood everywhere!!!" When we actually cut back to Brennan, we see that he only suffered a mild scratch on his arm.
  • Never My Fault: When Dale accidentally squishes Brennan while making the bunk beds, he blames Robert and Nancy for agreeing with their suggestion, despite the fact that was technically their idea to begin with.
    Dale: "Dad, Nancy. It's bad, it's so bad! There's blood everywhere! The bunk beds were a terrible idea, why'd you let us do that?! IT'S SO BAD!"
  • New Parent Nomenclature Problem: Played for Laughs
    Brennan: I'm not gonna call him Dad.
    Nancy: Brennan, you're 39 years old. I would not expect you to call him Dad.
    Brennan: Well, I'm not going to, ever! Even if there's a fire!
  • Never Wake Up a Sleepwalker: Robert finds out the hard way that the danger of waking up a sleepwalker is Real After All.
  • Noodle Incident: Brennan apparently once bumped into Randy Jackson, and the only thing he had with him was a katana.
  • Not So Above It All:
    • Nancy saying "What the fucking fuck?!"
    • Both Robert and Nancy admit Vanilla Ice's "Ice Ice Baby" is a "great" song.
  • "Not So Different" Remark: Robert eventually admits to Dale and Brennan that he used to be just as immature as the two of them before he was forced to get a job by his own father.
  • Overly Narrow Superlative: The Catalina Wine Mixer is "the biggest helicopter leasing event in the western hemisphere since 1997."
  • Parental Neglect: Alice doesn't seem to care much for her children. She keeps distancing herself from them, forcing Derek, Nancy, and Robert to look after them instead. She doesn't even seem to feed them. Their grandmother, Nancy, cooks all the meals they eat on screen. All she thinks about is making out with Dale and spending as much time away from her family as she can.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: Derek is an alpha-male jerk who has no problem calling Brennan and Dale "faggots" or claiming them to have "manginas."
  • Poor Man's Porn: Brennan whacks off to a female gymnastics video in the intro. Brennan and Dale both reveal that Good Housekeeping is their favorite non-pornographic magazine to masturbate to.
  • Pretty Fly for a White Guy: Derek, during his cringe-worthy attempt at selling the house to an African-American couple.
  • Pushover Parents: Nancy, as she doesn't believe in disciplining Brennan and Dale nor forcing them to get jobs to provide for themselves like Robert does. Nancy also defends no matter how old they are, they will always be her and Robert's children and responsibilities.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech:
    • When Robert refuses to invest the two, Brennan gives one to him.
      Robert: You jagaloons! You're failures! FAAILL-UUURES!
      Brennan: Hey, you're embarrassing yourself, you geriatric fuck! Two things: you keep your liver-spotted hands off my beautiful mother! She's a saint! And then you sit down and you write Dale and Brennan a check for $10,000, or we're gonna shove one of those fake hearing devices so far up your ass, you can hear the sound of your small intestine as it produces SHIT!
    • At the dinner table, Robert gives a scathing rant on how the duo's incompetence and selfishness brought friction between him and Nancy.
      Robert: (to the duo) Let's cut this shit. It is directly your fault.
      Nancy: Robert.
      Robert: You destroyed my boat, you beat me up in your sleep, and, worst of all, you made Nancy and I resent each other! It is absolutely, 150% your fault!
  • Redemption Rejection: Subverted and Played for Laughs with Derek. When Brennan suggests they hug it out, Derek blurts out "Yeah, you'd like that faggo-" before stopping himself and hugging his brother. This doesn't stop him from trying to wriggle out of it and end with the two settling for high-fiving each other.
  • Schoolyard Bully All Grown Up: While Derek has slightly more emotional maturity than Brennan and Dale do, his behavior is identical to a mean spirited teenager picking on two younger children.
  • Serious Business: The fricking Catalina Wine Mixer!
  • Smug Snake: Derek, especially right before Dale punches him.
  • Speed Sex: Gender flipped. Any time Alice and Dale have sex, it's Alice who climaxes quickly and rather easily.
  • Spoiled Brat: The titular characters.
  • Stepford Smiler: Alice takes a lot of verbal abuse from Derek with passive acceptance. Then she witnesses Dale punch her husband in the face, and she becomes this trope for a completely different reason.
  • Stylistic Suck:
    • "Boats n' Hoes".
    • Also, the "bunk beds" that Brennan and Dale build on their own, although they are extremely proud of their work.
      Dale: That looks like the one you would buy from a store.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: "Prestige Worldwide" eventually takes off and becomes a success, although as a chain of clubs and karaoke bars instead of the world's leading company in everything, as the guys originally intended for it to be.
  • Terrible Interviewees Montage: Invoked and played for laughs.
    • Also deliberately inverted and weaponized by Dale and Brennan themselves when sabotaging Derek's realty appointments.
  • Theme Music Power-Up: Whenever Brennan sees Dale's drumset, intense vocals are heard, the epic tune teasing Brennan and encouraging him to play the drumset. The epic theme music in question is an impossible-to-find track known as either "Captain Benevant & His Ragtag Crew" or "Dark Morning" by Aisle Landon.
  • Those Two Guys: Tommy and Tiffany (Derek and Alice's kids) who really have no importance to the plot but show up to every family gathering and their only significance is to show off their singing and rub their good luck and Christmas presents in Robert's face.
  • Toilet Paper Substitute: When Brennan is using the toilet, he runs out of toilet paper and he resorts to using his toilet rug and his sink to clean himself. The next day, he buys a huge amount of toilet paper.
  • Truth in Television: Dale while wearing a Klansman hood tells the potential house customers that every house on the block recycles. The Ku Klux Klan actually make a great deal about preserving and protecting the environment.
  • The Unfavorite: Both Brennan and Dale become this after Robert meets Derek and instantly takes a liking to him over his immature and idiotic son and stepson. It's possible that Brennan was also this to his and Derek's mother, who let the latter ruin the former's school performance and even joined in singing "Brennan has a mangina".
  • Unsympathetic Comedy Protagonist: Dale and Brennan are selfish, entitled, and emotionally-stunted manchildren who are motivated to keep their family together solely because they don't want to grow up.
  • Waking Non Sequitur: One from each of the main characters.
    • “The Clown has no penis...”
    • “I'm gonna kill you Leonard Nimoy!”
  • Writers Cannot Do Math: It's revealed that Brennan is 39 years old in 2008, which means he was born in 1969 or late 1968. It's also stated that when his brother lip-synced to "Ice Ice Baby" in a school talent show, Brennan was 17, placing the event around 1986. The song was actually released in 1990.
  • Yandere: Alice becomes this to Dale after he punches her Jerkass husband in the face.