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The passion of the middle class

Robert Downey Jr. is back, half his talent with him, but not the funny half. This humorless comedy’s funniest scene has Downey punch a kid in the gut – wouldn’t we all? He also spits at a dog. Here’s the new upper middle-class newlywed, away from the life of productivity: Long married – about to be shocked about sex & children. He is an architect; he is not a cheap dresser; he has an iPhone. Then he drives through flame & hail to attend childbirth; we are not told why.

This man’s story is a road trip from Alabama to California. Inevitably, he ends up in LA. Here’s Hollywood’s bourgeois American: Always already stressed; inclined to snap & bitch; self-loathing is his manliest moment. His complaints are womanly. Middle class opinion runs his life &, it sometimes seems, runs it into the ground. He underwhelms. He never asks himself about the good life.

He is taken for a airplane terrorist, gets shot by an air marshal, & placed on a no-fly list; he angers a handicapable veteran who proceeds to beat him mercilessly; after an astounding car crash & a broken arm, he gets high on pain killers; in the fullness of time, his anger just takes over. This is his journey beyond the laws – he has to learn to control his anger, but first he has to face it.

The happy end suggests this story is an education or therapy of some kind: The man is freed from his banal & predictable life. This is not exactly teaching him a lesson, but it is nevertheless punishment – deserved punishment. Apparently, middle-class man is rightly unhappy.

Middle-class life is the condition. How about the cause? Behold Zach Galifianikis – the middle-aged fat slob who says he’s 23, behold the perm, pug, & self-Frenchified name. He drives through a car door, drunk; carries drugs onto an airplane; eats waffles to which he is allergic, knowingly; gets drugs from a drug dealer; sends himself to sleep by self-abuse; barks at his dog to stop its own self-abuse; falls asleep at the wheel en route to a 40-foot dive; tells our protagonist that his best friend is sleeping with his wife – then tells the best friend, too; finally, he unwittingly drinks his father’s ashes for coffee. Uncharacteristically honest, this slavish creature wants to make it in Hollywood. Charlie Sheen discovers his talent.

Freud called this the ego, the childish satisfaction of urges – unmourned, unhonored, & unsung. Hollywood prefers his kind of individualism to middle-class man – Freud’s super-ego, or moralism. This brief history of the democratic soul climaxes with a psychedelic scene recalling the age of anti-social drugs, then they go to Mexico, where illegality is habitual.