When was the last time you played tag? Ten years ago? Twenty? Thirty? For me, it's been about 15 years since I've played the classic playground game behind my public elementary school, where I often spent long, hot Georgia afternoons as part of the after-school program. (Shout-out to working moms!) Maybe because I wasn't that good at it, or because I wasn't competitive in that way, I never really *got* the appeal of tag. And I can't say that I've thought much about the beloved recess game since I wore dirt-stained jeans and tie-dyed T-shirts. But now, much like the player deemed "it," tag has finally caught up with the times again, and in a bigger way than I could have ever imagined.
Tag is now Tag, the comedy-action movie about a group of grown men who have a 23-year-long game of tag spanning not only decades, but also jobs, relationships, and break-ups. Directed by Jeff Tomsic (Broad City, Idiotsitter), Tag is based on a real game of tag played by childhood friends up until adulthood — in fact, the men, a.k.a the "Tag Brothers," still play today (in the film the 10 players are cut to five and portrayed by an age-defying cast featuring Jeremy Renner, Jon Hamm, Jake Johnson, Ed Helms, and Hannibal Buress). Their unbelievable story was first chronicled in a front-page article in 2013 in the Wall Street Journal, which quickly went viral. The story of dads, grandpas, and best friends who all stay in touch through an annual month-long tag marathon (in the movie the group of friends dedicate the month of May to playing tag, but in real life, the Washington State natives play in February) strikes a deeper theme beyond the obvious LOL factor of adults chasing after each other. The movie highlights the fact that this group of five friends have all managed to keep in touch throughout the years thanks to their annual game of tag.
But as I was watching, thinking back to my own tag days, and of my own long-lasting friendships, I realized that women would never do this. And by "this" I don't mean "play tag" (because Tomisc and Johnson will tell you, like they told me, that Isla Fischer is the best tag player there is). I mean use a child's game as an excuse to avoid being vulnerable and letting friends knows that you need their attention, or their help, or just a text back. Women don't use tag to emote. These men do. And that's totally fine. This hilarious film reveals a deep dichotomy in the way that men and women communicate, and it all ties into the film's big final twist (which I won't reveal, but it's really sweet).
Knowing that I, a woman, think that texting an old friend is easier than flying across the country to yell, "YOU'RE 'IT!'", I had to ask the film's director and star, point-blank, if they see the women in their lives using tag as means of communication, a reason to get together and talk. Both Tomisc and Johnson, who plays the lovable stoner Randy, better known as "Chilli," admitted they hadn't really thought about it...until a woman asked it.
"I think it’s an interesting question," the New Girl star said over the phone when asked if he ever thought about the likelihood of women playing tag like this. "I had never thought about it until today. This is only the second time I have been asked that question, and both times have been by women. I know that when I was talking about doing this movie with my wife, she would say, 'So these guys really play tag?' And it seemed less foreign to me."
Tomsic had a similar answer: "I don’t think so. I don’t know. You probably have more insight on me about that than I do. I don’t know about tag specifically, but I hope that at least the idea of this kind of silly idiocy is kind of universal." He added later, "It’s true that the sad truth about a lot of my friends is that we don’t know how to be vulnerable without sort of tackling each other first."
To be clear, playing and enjoying games with friends is genderless, ageless, and timeless, but there's a boyish immaturity in the interactions between the five best friends that you don't see in their woman counterparts. "The problem is that it’s a true story about 10 guys, and we narrowed it down to five guys," Tomsic said. "It’s always a struggle, but I really wanted the female characters to have this huge badass role as well. Thankfully, Isla wanted to do this movie, and she is extremely funny and sort of terrifyingly confident. I really wanted to get that into her character, and her commitment to being the better, smarter, scarier character of Tag."
It's true. Along with Fischer, Annabelle Wallis and Leslie Bibb's characters all interact with the game, but in a purely competitive way. The women don't play because they desire each other's attention — they play because they want to win.
Which is exactly is what Tag is about: how men embrace their weird friendships, with even weirder traditions, in order to keep a conversation, or a relationship, alive.
"I’ve definitely done things like this," Johnson admitted. "Me and my brother, we do a specific tradition that started as a joke. We always do a joke on the phone that one of us pretends to ask the other guy for money, and then the other guy presses a button that makes a beeping sound that signifies that you’ve been hung up on. We have now done that joke with each other for nearly every call for 20 years."
Or in other words, they tag each other "it."