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Men with feelings strike back

From Monday's Globe and Mail

Mainstream Hollywood movies seem to think men have but one gland in their brains, the adrenal, and that anything that smacks of emotions, relationships or vulnerabilities should be relegated to the world of chick flicks (and then instantly dismissed). But listening to actors talk this past weekend at the Toronto International Film Festival, I was relieved to hear that men are just as dissatisfied about that as I am.

Vince Vaughn, whose long limbs can't help but drape over everything even when he's sitting up straight, gave a press conference for his new film, Vince Vaughn's Wild West Comedy Show: 30 Days & 30 Nights -- Hollywood to the Heartland, on Saturday. It's a behind-the-scenes documentary about the comedy revue that he and four pals, stand-up comics Ahmed Ahmed, John Caparulo, Bret Ernst and Sebastian Maniscalco, took on the road in fall 2005.

"The reason that I love these guys is that they're not gimmick comics; they're connected to their lives in a genuine way," Vaughn said. "They're not about looking cool, but about being authentic, vulnerable, telling stories about their lives. It's an in-the-trenches perspective of what it's like to be onstage every night expressing yourself, expressing your pain."

Ahmed, who is Egyptian and Muslim, does routines about encountering prejudice. Caparulo talks honestly about his family. All believe in comedy that's about human connection and that doesn't come at the expense of anybody. And all agreed that it's hard out there for a comic now that the stand-up boom of the eighties has gone bust and there's not much of a perceived market for thoughtful men.

But that didn't deter Vaughn from pursuing this project; he's never played Hollywood's game, he said. "I think of that great Indian, Geronimo, who said he never got captured because 'I never fought their battle.' I never cared about getting a table in restaurants, I never went to parties or cultivated relationships. I always made my own material.

"Art is suffering right now because it's all about results, success. I don't care about that. I'm interested in being honest."

Yesterday, Scott Caan, who wrote, directed and co-stars in the new comedy The Dog Problem, and his lead actor and long-time friend, Giovanni Ribisi, sat on a banquette at the Four Seasons Studio Café discussing much the same problem. Already I've heard their funny, smart film -- about an emotionally bankrupt novelist who adopts a dog to try to feel something again -- categorized as "a date movie" and "a chick flick for guys" simply because it values relationships and self-reflection. They're irked that movies made for their generation (they're 30 and 31, respectively) presume that guys want only to get wasted and screw strangers.

"What about Woody Allen's films, or John Cassavetes's?" Caan asked. "Those guys made films that spoke to everyone, that everyone wanted to see." Today, he said, their subject matter is shoved into a tiny corner, the low-budget indie, while the real money and production values are reserved for movies with firearms in them.

Caan wanted to tell a low-key, simple story about an issue facing a lot of guys he knew -- namely, what happens when the fun of your 20s stops being fun, when you want to move onto the next thing, but everything in our culture is conspiring to keep you adolescent. He wrote a couple of different scripts to that idea, but couldn't get them financed. Then he had an idea: Put a dog in it. "I don't want to sound cynical, but I knew a dog would make it more commercial," he said.

He was right -- the dog story was one the money guys understood. They didn't need to know that Ribisi and Caan prepared for shooting by watching DVD after DVD of European classics: The 400 Blows, Stolen Kisses, The Bicycle Thief, Eric Rohmer films. To have both a Y-chromosome and a heart, that could be their secret.

Even Dustin Hoffman touched on this subject Saturday afternoon, at the press conference for his brainy comedy Stranger than Fiction. It was, without a doubt, the zaniest presser I've ever seen at TIFF, as Hoffman led his co-stars Emma Thompson and Will Ferrell and his director Marc Forster into giddiness. He cracked sex jokes, flirted with reporters, and referred repeatedly to his alleged egomania. "I think I should have played Johnny Depp's part in Finding Neverland [which Forster also directed] and Will's part in this," he said.

He was only half-kidding. "I started out playing supporting parts and now I'm right back to playing supporting parts," Hoffman said. He didn't need to add why: That the kinds of films he excelled at -- A-list relationship films such as Tootsie and Kramer vs. Kramer -- are so rarely made now by major studios.

At one point, Hoffman had the room laughing so much, he said, "I never want this press conference to end." I ran into him later at a party, and began to ask, "On the axis of sincerity vs. sarcasm --"

"Good start to any question," he cut in, nodding.

" -- where does your remark really lie, that you never wanted the press conference to end?" I finished.

"Oh, complete sincerity," he replied. "I was being sincere, absolutely."

He seemed to mean it. As did all these guys.

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