As children we all played games and engaged in activities that for many of us have either passed into nostalgia or are no longer possibilities through time constraints or physical limitations. But what if you were so committed to a childhood tradition you refused to let anything stop you from continuing to play, to revel in your inner child, even if just for a little bit every year? That is the premise of this movie based on a true story. A group of men continued playing the same game of tag since they were little. The game was not always going, but for at least one month a year they could tag their friends and then at midnight on the last day of the month one would be labeled the loser to walk in shame until the annual game picked up again. Add to that one friend that has never been tagged in all those years, and a rumor he might be “retiring” from the game and you’ve got a fresh premise for a promising movie.
Luckily for me and anyone else in the audience Jeff Tomsic’s silver screen debut manages to take advantage of this setup. Truly looking at Tomsic’s credits list he’s touched a lot of different areas around the camera: producing, directing, editing, even animation – usually in shorts and TV – but it looks like he’s translated all those experiences well to the big screen. It definitely helps make his job easier that the main cast are so good at their job. Each one of the guys inhabit their characters so well they could be interesting on their own, but when they are interacting you can almost see a glow on the screen. But none of them seem to be trying to one-up each other, they just feel genuinely connected as old friends should. Some of the ladies on screen have less to work with and come close to looking like an Adam Sandler movie character, but thankfully are reigned in just before they tip over into too ridiculous a territory.
It is a solid comedy with plenty of heart that anyone old enough to buy a ticket can relate to in some way and enjoy. There is a lot of language that will turn off those with sensitive ears, but not much else to worry about. There were so many moments that felt refreshing in the type and style of comedy used that feels out of vogue in most movies these days. For that reason alone it is worth your time but the footage of the real life men during the credits will warm your heart as you leave the theater, too. Add to that a good reminder about having things worth holding on to and not forgetting the purpose of traditions and there are worse ways to spend an evening.
SPOILERS to follow:
We find out early in the film that all these men are having big, serious events either this month or during this season of their lives. One is getting married, another is trying to get interviewed by the Wall Street Journal, a third is divorced living with his dad trying to stay high and drunk incessantly, another is fighting paranoia through therapy, and the last we found out late in the film is dealing with a cancer diagnosis. But regardless of the circumstances good or bad, big or small, they drop everything to travel sometimes to other states just to touch their friend on the shoulder and say, “You’re it.” But a sadness and desperation hangs over the proceedings this year as they are told that for one of them it will be their last year playing. Though it makes some of the guys seem more determined than ever we get the idea that Jerry, who has never been tagged, was always ready to ratchet up the intensity as the other guys got move serious about it to protect his perfect record. This is obviously used to comedic benefit but also leads to the heartfelt message of the film. By the end we hear Hoagie plead with Jerry to just get tagged once, not to ruin Jerry’s perfect record or to let Hoagie bask in the glory of being the one who did it, but because how Jerry is playing is counter productive to the reason behind continuing to play the game in the first place. They kept playing so that despite these serious issues in their life, and long distances separating them as long as the game continued they would be brought back together and maintain the closeness within their group. To Hoagie that was “a way of life” worth preserving, but over the years Jerry had just focused on a title worth preserving. In our own lives there are things we need to continue to do to bring us together with those we love. Otherwise life’s pressures and increasingly distant living arrangements will get in the way and years will pass by quickly with our closeness to friends and family decreasing by the minute. In TAG Hoagie and his friends use a game, but we don’t have to use childhood games to bring us and keep us together.
For some, a personal relationship with Jesus Christ is that game of tag. He promises a new heaven and new earth after this one passes away. He knows things aren’t the way they should be, and he wants you to experience life without things like divorce, paranoia, addiction and cancer. He even wants you to experience a life of closeness where nothing is separating you from the ones you love. Knowledge of something so awesome, so worth holding on to, is worth leaving other troubles and responsibilities to share this with as many people as possible especially those you love and care about. That is why you hear stories of people becoming missionaries in far off third world countries when they could make a comfortable life for themselves here in the United States. It’s also why people would get up early on a Sunday morning to sing together, listen to teaching, and hang out with people they may not have seen or talked to all week. This is a christian game of tag where they congregate and say,”This isn’t it.” It’s a reminder that there is something better coming that will wash away all the pain experienced not only this past week, but the one before and the one coming up.
Unfortunately there are some like Jerry who get lost in tradition and titles. They use religion and perfect attendance at church to hang over the heads of people within their sphere of influence. They project a holier than you attitude to keep others from being able to “touch” them. They take the message of acceptance and use it for completely backwards ends. Jerry’s take, “This isn’t it.” and warp it into, “This isn’t it, for me. Don’t you wish you were like me? Now get away before you put my golden ticket in jeopardy.” If you feel like you have been acting like a Jerry it’s easy to change and just redirect your attention and energy to what really matters. If you know someone who has been acting like a Jerry, be gentle. You see how Hoagie has to be honest, caring and sympathetic before Jerry can trust him that there isn’t a trick involved. Not all Jerry’s realize they are missing the mark, most think they are hitting it better than anybody else, so try to go easy on them. They need this just as much as you do.
TAG charges you to hold on to something that will keep you and your friends and family close despite life’s pressures. That is a charge worth taking, and one that is sorely needed. But take heart every time you think about men dressed as old ladies or mascots tagging each other to bring a smile to their buddy’s face. And take a moment to consider who you know that needs a hug and needs to hear, “This isn’t it.”