(2009) Dramedy (Sony Classics) Steve Coogan, Hilary Duff, Olivia Thirlby, Josh Peck, Molly Shannon, Molly Price, Max Hoffman, Sarah Lind, Laura Carswell, Ingrid Nelson, Andrea Brooks, Andrew Wheeler, Gabrielle Rose. Directed by Jonathan Glatzer
Some movies are easy reviews. They stay with you or they are of such quality (or lack thereof) that the reviews almost write themselves. Others, like this one, are much harder to find the right words for.
Campbell Babbitt (Coogan) is a journalist doing a backstory on teacher Christa McAuliffe, who is about to go up in the Space Shuttle Challenger, at her high school in New Hampshire. As it so happens, an old college buddy of his also teaches there but before Babbitt can hook up with him, he commits suicide.
He is left to talk to the surviving students, such as Lucy Diamond (Duff), a somewhat self-centered sort who thinks that every guy who lays eyes on her is automatically her conquest; there’s also Tess Sullivan (Thirlby), a pregnant teen who is as manipulative as she is expectant and Jim Lement (Peck) who plays things close to the chest.
As a matter of fact, the whole town seems to be a bit on the eccentric side (as towns in New England often are in the movies) with Penelope Little (Shannon) putting on a somewhat avant garde musical production honoring the Challenger and its famous local astronaut. In the meantime, Campbell is going to get a close look at himself and his own ethics.
This is the kind of movie that drives me crazy. There’s a good deal of promise here, both in the subject matter and in some of the casting – I like Steve Coogan and this is the kind of role he doesn’t tackle often, something with a little meat to it. Coogan has the ability to tackle roles both comedic and dramatic and this one shows off his talents in both fields.
Duff is cast against type as something of a slut, and to be honest with you I can’t say as she looks comfortable in the role. Shannon is wacky as ever and this is the kind of part she has played many a time, both on SNL and in movies. She’s a little more sympathetic than usual here but that’s all.
Using the Challenger disaster as a framing device wouldn’t be a bad thing in and of itself, but there doesn’t really seem to be much of a point here. The point is, I suppose, that the students are teaching Campbell something about life and maybe there’s some merit to that, but they seem to be more cliche indie film eccentrics more than real characters.
Some of the moments are really touching, and there are some moments that are charming but sadly, they are not as plentiful as they might be. Some of the cinematography is marvelous – there are some beautiful shots of the bleak winter, but that’s not enough to carry the movie. It’s sort of a noble failure; there are enough things that work to make it worth my while to review, but there are not enough of them to provoke me to recommend it, as much as I wish I could.
WHY RENT THIS: A definite change of pace for Coogan. Some really affecting moments.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The movie is inconsistent in places; sometimes thought-provoking, other times not so much. Casting seems a little haphazard.
FAMILY VALUES: There’s teen sex, language and drug use.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Although set in New England, the movie was filmed in British Columbia to help better establish the winter setting.
NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: Not available.
FINAL RATING: 5/10