Film discussion

Throwback 10: Drillbit Taylor

By Alec Deacon

‘‘I get a kick outta these kids. The fat one says some funny shit.’’

Drillbit Taylor was released in March of 2008 and managed to reach number 4 at the box office in its opening weekend. It clawed back its budget of forty million dollars but never really made a sustained impact with cinema audiences at the time, which at the time of release saw families flocking to Dr Suess’ Horton Hears A Who that had more cross generation appeal. Drillbit Taylor was riding the 1980s nostalgia train, something that wouldbecome a trend of 2008 with the big screen release of a fourth Indiana Jones adventure and the blood-soaked return of John Rambo, which in tern had its own homage that year in, Son Of Rambow.

Drillbit Taylor falls somewhere in-between the actioner and the adventurer of old and is styled as one of the old school comedies from the 1980s that always bringsback found memories. Films made with straightforward but effective stories that are delivered with no self-importance or forcing of sentiment but instead given to the audience with care and with just the aim of making people smile, while cheering-on the loveable loser hero as he or she comes through in the end.

So it is by no means a coincidence the key writer on Drillbit Taylor was none other than director, producer and screenwriter John Hughes who wrote and directed some of the most successful comedies of the 1980s including the National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983), Sixteen Candles (1984), Weird Science (1985), The Breakfast Club (1985) and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986), to name but a small few. Drillbit Taylor would unintentionally become Hughes’ epitaph as it was the last motion picture he worked on before his untimely death in 2009 of a heart attack.

Based on a story by Apatow stalwart Seth Rogen, Drillbit Taylor introduces us to best friends Wade (Nate Hartley) and Ryan a.k.a. (at his insistence) T-Dog (Troy Gentile). Their personalities complement each other, but physically they are comically mismatched making them an obvious target of bullying before they even open their mouths, but their fate is ultimately sealed on the first day of high school when Wade speaks up against the bullying of another student, the small and nerdy Emmit (David Dorfman). Emmit quickly attaches himself to his new found saviours Wade and Ryan and the three of them then of course become the favourite target of borderline-psychopath Filkins (Alex Frost), the school’s regular reigning terror.

So far so Superbad for kids, but really Drillbit Taylor is far more than another lude and crude Knocked-Up, Judd Apatow production, because from the early moments in the dinner when the bullied trio conduct interviews for a new bodyguard to save their skin at school, Drillbit Taylor knows what it is. A roll call of so called heroes passes through all homageing 80s characters. One such character is a cameo by Adam Baldwin essentially reprising his role from 1980’s My Bodyguard a comedy not a million miles from Drillbit Taylor.

Wilson was riding high at the time after the success of back to back pictures, Cars (2006), Night At The Museum (2006) and The Darjeeling Limited (2007). Drillbit Taylor should be added to that run and is one of the best performances by Owen Wilson to date, with his whimsical free-styling being a perfect fit for Drillbit.

As much fun as Wilson seems to be having on screen however a very dark time was on the horizon as only a month or so after filming was completed on Drillbit Taylor in mid 2007, Owen Wilson attempted suicide. With this in mind one can look back on Drillbit Taylor in a whole new light. Owen Wilson, during a very difficult time in his life, possibly took on the role for a far deeper personal reason?

The story of a troubled man, living a life pretending to be something he is not, out of work, no prospects with an extremely closed circle of friends and unable to take control of his situation, just trying to keep his head above water. But just when he thinks all is lost Drillbit finds friends where he thought there was none, discovers love in teacher Lisa (played by Leslie Mann) and a purpose that leads him to come through the fire a better person. Thankfully Owen came through the fire too however is absence from any promoting of the movie, due to his state of mind at the time, almost certainly impacted on Drillbit Taylor gaining a wider audience.

Drillbit Taylor is a sweet and funny comedy that has leaves a legacy most people might not give it credit for and is quite possibly the last time we will have a tale of its ilk on the big screen. Everyone is having fun and reminds you of a time when the most shocking swear word in a family movie was ‘‘crap’’. Drillbit Taylor is a love letter to the youth of the 1980s and yes it is by no means unique, however that is part of the charm, Drillbit Taylor does not ask too much of you, only that you enjoy your time and leave with a smile.