Starring: Justin Long, Jonah Hill, Blake Lively, Lewis Black, Adam Herschman, Columbus Short, Maria Thayer, Hannah Marks
Running Time: 90 min.
**1/2 (out of ****)
Accepted is an excellent example of what separates a good comedy from a great one. It raises the interesting question of whether you judge a movie on what it is or what it could have been. What it could have been was the best college set comedy since Animal House, but what it ends up being is entertaining and efficiently funny. The premise is so strong and the movie so close to greatness you can almost smell it, but it makes stupid little mistakes that were avoidable. It was probably a script rewrite away from really being something. There are still a lot of good things in it but not enough to earn a mild recommendation.
Bartleby Gaines (Justin Long), known to his friends as B., isn't going to college. He just couldn't get in anywhere. So what's he going to do? Make one up. With the help of his rotund friend Schrader (Jonah Hill, who steals the entire film) they create a web site for a fictional college named the South Harmon Institute of Technology (S.H.I.T.-get it?) and produce a fake acceptance letter for his parents. Surprisingly, and to the movie's credit, the S.H.I.T. joke doesn't get old as they constantly find inventive variations on it throughout the movie. Of course, his folks want to see the place, so with some help, they renovate an old run down mental hospital, get some fake students for show, and they're in business. The only problem is every student who couldn't get in to any college anywhere applied online and were accepted. Now they're all showing up at the front door for class and B. has to figure out how to run a college. They also face the threat of eviction from nearby prestigious Harmon College, where Schrader and Monica (Blake Lively), the girl of B.'s dreams, are enrolled.
You probably know how this is all going to end. What you don't know, however, is that this film actually does kind of have something to say and is enjoyable much of the way through. It's not laugh out loud hysterical (although parts are) but it's definitely funny and the characters are memorable. Sometimes an actor is given a line that may seem mildly amusing on paper, but when delivered onscreen it just hits a home run. I must have seen the scene with Schrader dressed as a hot dog telling everyone to "ask me about my weiner" at least a hundred times before seeing the film and laughed every time. When I saw it in the context of the movie I was still on the floor laughing. The sincerity and idiocy with which Jonah Hill deivers it with is perfect and he does the same for just about every other single line he's given in the movie. The guy is just hysterical and it would be worth seeing this if only just for his performance. What I like about the Schrader character is that he does stupid things, but he's not stupid. He knows how illegal this whole operation and against his better judgement goes along for the ride. It was also great to see comedian Lewis Black finally get a role worthy of him as the bitter, grumpy shoe salesman who acts as the fake dean of the college.
Justin Long (the guy in the Apple commericals) is nearly pushing thirty yet I still found him believable as a college freshman and he made a good straight man to all the ridiculousness that sorrounded him. I really liked how they handled his relationship with Monica as they've known each other for years, but never really knew each other at all. There's a great scene where B. thinks she's asking him to the prom, but she's really asking him if he could mow her lawn. She's a nice person who just really isn't aware of his existence through no fault of her own and I liked the way Blake Lively played her. She doesn't do anything actorish and is just really natural as a normal, pretty girl. One of the best performances of the movie comes from Hannah Marks as B.'s wise way beyond her years little sister who knows everything her brother is up to and is easily smarter than every character in the movie.
With all these things the movie does right it almost does as many wrong. Why is it PG-13? If there was ever an opportunity to make a good, old fashioned R rated college comedy it was this. With kids creating their own college the opportunity for gross-out hysterics and over the top comedy was limitless. Instead it's limited, like the filmmakers were too afraid an R rating could hurt the box office. Also, way too much screen time is given to a very annoying character named Glen who's head looks like an eraser. Nothing he does is funny and he's given an amount of screen time that should qualify as cruel and unusual punishment for the viewer.
The script often throws common sense out the window. I know we're supposed to suspend disbelief to the max in a comedy like this, but the movie doesn't even try to make any of this the slightest bit believable. That this stunt would require students with a college education to pull off I'm willing to forgive. Or that no one has anywhere to sleep or eat I can deal with. I mean, it is college. What I can't handle (spoiler warning!) is the students being in complete shock late in the movie that this wasn't a real college and feeling upset and betrayed. Gee, what gave it away that it was a fake college guys? Plus, why would they care as long as they're having fun? This goes against the spirit of the whole movie.
The film contains some really good ideas about higher education such as that colleges don't really do anything to prepare you for the real world and you should always just follow what you're interested in. I liked the idea board they came up with where students create their own classes. Unfortunately, the movie grandstands at the end painting the issue in black and white with evil Harmon College up the road killing education and suffocating students with structure and discipline. The villains are caricatures, the issue isn't that one-sided and the final courtroom scene is embarassing, even for a comedy like this. The movie deserved better.
This is the directing debut for Steve Pink who co-wrote Grosse Pointe Blank and High Fidelity with John Cusak. He just directed it. There's no way a man who co-wrote those movies could have had any hand in writing this, I would hope. This is not even close to being in the same leasgue as those two films. It sounds like I hate the movie, which I don't. It's actually pretty good and at least worth a rental. Even with all it's problems, I still may have enjoyed it more than Old School. When it was over though, I couldn't help feeling that, like the applicants to this college, this movie just failed to reach it's full potential. That's a shame because Accepted had all the ingredients to be the best collegiate comedy in years.