From the trailer, Tag looked to be a good time slapstick-filled romp. What I imagined it lacked it substance, it would make up for in laughs.
I was half-right.
The movie absolutely delivers on the brand of hilarity it promises. The theater I was in exploded in laughter more than once. In fact, we were moved to applause when the game became more chess than tag. It’s hard not to be 100% invested when you see adults donning costumes and threatening teddy bears (it was emotionally harrowing, but we made it). When you factor in that this is based loosely on a true story? That a game of tag did, in fact, span decades? That a group of friends committed to something that lasted their whole lives? I’m here for it.
We meet the players in the middle of tag season, a thirty year old tradition in which the month of May is a free for all no-tag-backs full body contact experience. First there’s Ed Helms’s Hogan ‘Hoagie’ Malloy. To demonstrate how serious the game nay the sport of tag is to this group of friends, Hoagie has taken a janitorial job at his friend’s job to get close to him. His target, Bob Callahan played by Jon Hamm is a high powered exec type. Except when it comes to tag. Then, he’s very much a 9 year old.
Callahan is being interviewed by the Wall Street Journal. Journalist Rebecca Crosby (Annabelle Wallis) is so much more interested in the game that wreaked havoc on her interview than she is on whatever boring company profile she intended to write and so when Hoagie shares that Jerry, the only person to never have been IT in 30 years is retiring after this season and so the group must join forces to tag him, that’s the story she wants.
All that’s left to do to get the movie kicked off right is to pick up the other players. Jake Johnson is Randy ‘Chilli’ Cilliano, a man at rock bottom: recently divorced, forgoing basic hygiene, and perpetually drowning or smoking his problems away. Hannibal Buress is Kevin Sable, a quiet, deadpan man who manages to deliver almost all of the movie’s quotables. Last is Anna Malloy, Hoagie’s super intense wife (Isla Fisher). They join forces to get Jerry (Jeremy Renner) as he prepares to marry his girlfriend, Susan Rollins (Leslie Bibb).
Fortunately for us, the movie surpasses the setup, which while fun doesn’t offer much promise of an emotional payoff. Instead what we get—and why I spent so many paragraphs introducing the players—is an ode to friendship.
These guys have nothing in common except that they used to live near each other when they were kids and yet 30 years later, they are still playing. Maybe it’s more than an ode to friendship, maybe it’s a call to review our need to adult in a specific, possibly soul-crushing way, that doesn’t leave any room in our lives for fun, for silly, for unadulterated joy. Tag is as much about that joy as it is about evading it or losing it as it is so easy to do in a world that does not seem to value playfulness outside of a schoolyard.
If you really want to up the ante on the old school feels, listen to the soundtrack which was, from opening credits until I walked out of the theatre, it’s own character. I found myself lip-syncing all of the words to all of the songs in the exact same way I slip right back into private jokes with my besties even when I haven’t see them face-to-face in months (or worse, years).
To be clear, this is not a date movie. Save that sappy shit for your tear-stained copy of The Notebook. This movie demands that you go with your oldest or best friends and laugh loud during and louder afterwards while you reminisce.