I have lived most of my life in Wisconsin.
So here’s a movie that takes place in Wisconsin, written by two guys in Wisconsin, and I put it in the DVD player with a small amount of fear.
Fear… of cheese hats.
Okay, not just cheese hats, but really, any Wisconsin cliché. First the cheese hats, then the Packers, then some twelve-year-old kid holding a beer. Probably a can of Old Milwaukee.
So I fired it up. I couldn’t believe how wrong I was.
“No Sleep ‘Til Madison” details the story of a guy named Owen. He’s thirty-ish, and every year he and his high school chums travel Wisconsin, following the final games of the high school hockey championships.
At first things go well. Owen has packed the schedule a little tight, but they catch a few games, hit a bar, meet a few women, and reminisce about their high school glory days.
Slowly, things start to unravel. One of his friends is injured in a pick-up broom-hockey game. Another one goes home when his business gets into trouble. Owen starts to panic as one by one, his friends point out something he’s not ready to face.
They are all adults now.
On the surface, “No Sleep” is a comedy about a bunch of old friends sharing a hockey obsession. But just below it, the film is an adept look at what really happens to guys as they get older.
This is best explained by the two best scenes in the film.
The second best scene is funny only because it’s fairly goofy. The two single guys, hoping to pick up some ladies at a bar, convince their married friend to get onstage and sing a song in French. The song, the delivery, and the reactions to the song are all hilarious, and probably could be pulled out and shown as a laugh-out-loud short.
But the best scene of the film is even more funny because, frankly, it’s the truth. Two of the guys are in the bathroom. One is clipping his ear hair, and the other is using the toilet.
Friend with Ear-Hair Clippers asks Toilet-Bound Friend if he and his wife still have fun. The friend answers: “On Tuesdays, we go dancing. We see friends on Sundays. Thursday is sex night.”
“When we were in high school, did you ever think we’d be having this conversation?”
“Not while clipping our ear hair,” replies the guy on the toilet.
What this film does so well is capture the real process of aging. People getting older, getting married, having kids, who still maintain contact with their own personal Owen. We all know that one guy, who still talks about high school as if it weren’t ten or twelve years in the past.
And we all know what he’ll have to go through to join the present.
In the final scene of the movie, Owen makes a few decisions, but no pat answers are given. In a sequence both silly and moving, he tries to mend a fence he broke early in the film, and it is a credit to the writers and directors that the scene fires on all cylinders. We don’t know for sure what is going to happen, but we do know that Owen is, at least marginally, growing up. So we root for him.
The DVD comes with a few extras on it, including the director’s commentary, during which the three directors pass the mic around. The directors discuss what scenes were cut from the film, what plot points or nuances came from their lives, how various actors got involved in the film, and why the weather varies so greatly throughout the picture (something you won’t wonder if you’ve ever living in Wisconsin).
There’s a collection of audition tapes that is less than marginally interesting, and a behind-the-scenes video that is slightly more so.
Also on board is a five-minute primer on screenwriting, which might be useful to a novice.
But none of that is important. With the market today so flooded with comedies made for kids between the ages of fifteen and twenty-five, here is a film for people twenty-five and older. People who are looking for the line between nostalgia, and just plain sad.
And realizing for the first time they’re old enough to have to locate it.