(2006) Comedy (Universal) Justin Long, Jonah Hill, Blake Lively, Lewis Black, Adam Herschmann, Columbus Short, Maria Thayer, Mark Derwin, Ann Cusack, Hanna Marks, Robin Lord Taylor, Anthony Heald. Directed by Neil Burger.
Our country is entering a phase in which young people are being put in a Catch-22 situation. On the one hand, employers are increasingly valuing college degrees when time comes to hire. On the other hand, we’re doing less and less to prepare our young students for college. What is starting to happen is that young people with ambitions for an institution of higher learning are being put under increasing stress to perform from an early age, which goes against the natural teenaged tendency to goof off.
Bartleby Gaines (Long) does just that throughout most of his high school career. A slacker by nature and a con artist by preference, he spends his time talking his way out of situations and creating new ones by running some scam or another. Like many kids his age, his parents are putting intense pressure for him to get into a college. The problem is, Bartleby spent more time creating fake IDs than he did using his actual one in the school library. As a result, his college applications are being met with rejection after rejection.
After his last hope, Harmon College, turns to ash, Bartleby gets inspiration; as a stopgap measure he can create a fake college – the South Harmon Institute of Technology (check out those initials for a clue to the kind of humor you’ll be getting) – complete with letterhead acceptance letter and a professional-looking website. His friends Hands (Short), who lost a football scholarship after an injury, Rory (Thayer) who pinned all her hopes on getting to Yale to the point where she applied nowhere else and Glen (Herschmann) got a zero on his SATs because he forgot to sign his test, all either assist or ask to be “admitted” to the non-existant institute of higher learning.
His best friend Sherman Schrader (Hill) did get into Harmon, largely because the three generations of Schraders preceding him attended there. Bartleby’s dream girl, Monica (Lively) is also attending Harmon, having already hooked up with a frat boy Nazi.
This being a comedy, obstacles begin to crop up to threaten the wild scheme. Bartleby’s parents (Derwin and Cusack) want to drop him off at school, so the conspirators convert an abandoned mental hospital into the semblance of an academic institution. Dad wants to meet with the dean, so Bartleby recruits Schrader’s Uncle Ben (Black).
Unfortunately, they’ve done their job a little too well. Other students who’d learned the sting of rejection somehow found the South Harmon website and had applied, complete with submitting $10,000 checks for the first semester. Unwilling to crush their dreams the way his had been crushed, Bartleby decides to make an unusual institution of higher learning – one in which the students determine their own curriculum, learn on their own and teach each other the skills they already bring to the table. Against all odds, the students nobody wanted begin to learn. They also begin to party big time, since that’s also what college is all about.
The presence of a competitor doesn’t sit too well with the supercilious Dean Van Horne (Heald) of Harmon, which covets the land South Harmon sits on for expansion. Of course, the established school resorts to underhanded tactics to get what they want. When it all unravels as surely it must, Bartleby finds that he will have to be smarter than he’s ever been in order to save the cause he has now adopted, and incidentally to get the girl.
Da Queen and I differed wildly in our opinions on this one. She found it to be so formulaic that it became boring. While I certainly agree this follows established Hollywood comedic procedures as established in such movies as Revenge of the Nerds, Back to School and Old School, it works well enough to feel safe and comfortable for me. I didn’t necessarily go into this looking for groundbreaking comedy, nor should you.
She also saw it thematically as an attack on higher education, while I looked at it as a suggestion for alternatives to current university structure which admittedly can be rigid and hidebound. Her most grievous complaint, however, was that she just didn’t find it all that funny because it was so predictable. I understand her dilemma; most of the best parts of the movie could be found in the trailer, and while our son (who saw it earlier with friends) found it very quotable, it just isn’t all that mature in the humor department.
Still, I found it to be fairly harmless. Justin Long, an actor I wasn’t fond of in his signature role in Ed does a pretty good job here. Jonah Hill, as Schrader, is even better; nearly every line he delivers is perfectly timed. He has since become a star in his own right.
This isn’t the best comedy you’ll find out there. However, it isn’t all that bad either. If you are looking for light comedy, you could do worse than this. I can recommend it, but not without reservations; there are plenty of great comedies out there that are worth your attention before this one is.
WHY RENT THIS: Sweet and charming. Long does some of his best work here whereas Hill shows some of his potential in his role.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Could use a few more laughs and the premise is awfully formulaic.
FAMILY MATTERS: There’s a little bit of sex, a lot more bad words and still more drug use and alcohol abuse.
TRIVIAL PURSUITS: Most of the computers used in the movie were Apples. Star Justin Long had just become a spokesman for Apple prior to filming.
NOTABLE DVD FEATURES: There is a “mockumentary” about the making of the movie shot by actor Adam Herschmann, as well as a couple of music videos and an easter egg leading to an extended version of the hazing scene with Jonah Hill.
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $38.5M on a $23M production budget; the film lost money.
FINAL RATING: 6/10
TOMORROW: No One Knows About Persian Cats