August 20, 2009

Post Grad

starstar

A movie review by James Berardinelli



Post Grad

COMEDY/ROMANCE:

United States, 2009

U.S. Release Date:

2009-08-21

Running Length:

1:29

MPAA Classification:

PG-13 (Profanity, Sexual Situations)

Theatrical Aspect Ratio:

1.85:1

Cast:

Alexis Bledel, Zach Gilford, Michael Keaton, Jane Lynch, Bobby Coleman, Carol Burnett, Rodrigo Santoro

Director:

Vicky Jenson

Screenplay:

Kelly Fremon

Cinematography:

Charles Minsky

Music:

Christophe Beck

U.S. Distributor:

20th Century Fox

Subtitles:

none


These tough economic times, with the national unemployment rate inching toward double digits, would seem to offer the perfect opportunity to release a movie about the difficulties faced by a recent college graduate in obtaining not merely the "perfect job," but any job at all. Unfortunately, as such a candidate, Post Grad isn't funny, surprising, or insightful enough to provoke more than a ho-hum reaction. It's not bad in the way that many failed comedies are bad; it's simply uninspired. And, in the end, what starts out as an exploration of a woman finding herself once she's freed from the hermetically sealed safety bubble of the college experience turns into yet another romantic comedy in which the girl drops everything and pursues the boy as he stakes out his future.

Alexis Bledel was fine as a member of the ensemble cast of The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2. (She was the one who went to Greece.) Here, however, stripped of her co-stars and expected to pretty much carry the load of the bland screenplay on her own, she stumbles a little. The biggest thing Bledel has going for her are her wide, beautiful eyes - eyes that are adored by the camera to the same degree as those of Zooey Deschanel and Jennifer Ehle. But it takes more than amazing peepers to carry a movie, as is apparent here. Surrounding Bledel with a mostly-veteran supporting cast (Michael Keaton, Jane Lynch, Carol Burnett) doesn't help, because it makes us aware of how much more interesting they are than she is. Even Zach Gilford, playing the stock best friend since childhood/love interest, is more apt at arresting out attention.

Ryden Malby (Alexis Bledel) has had a career plan since childhood, and we are informed of its particulars during a moderately clever prologue: get good grades in high school, obtain a scholarship to a college, and graduate near the top of her class. All of that would theoretically allow her to get a job as an assistant editor at a top California publishing house. As a lover of books, she can't imagine working anywhere else. But, when a job offer isn't forthcoming, she finds herself at loose ends. Her best bud, Adam (Zach Gilford), offers support in the form of an Eskimo Pie - the cure for all ills - but the chocolate and ice cream treat doesn't help Ryden with her job hunting. Unable to find anything, she has to move back home with her father (Michael Keaton), mother (Jane Lynch), grandmother (Carol Burnett), and little brother (Bobby Coleman). If there's a silver lining, it's that the suave, cultured David (Rodrigo Santoro) lives across the street. They meet not-so-cute when Ryden's dad runs over David's cat, but he doesn't hold that against her. Soon, the two are doing some acrobatics involving a blow-up sofa and David has offered Ryden the thing she desires most: a job.

Arguably, the least interesting of the stock romantic comedy plot options is the one in which a childhood friend secretly holds a torch for another. Occasionally, if the script displays exceptional feeling and the actors do a superb job, as was the case in the John Hughes/Howard Deutch collaboration, Some Kind of Wonderful, the results can be pleasant. More often than not, however, we end up with something flaccid like Post Grad. This movie has more problems than a poorly developed romance, however. It embraces tangents, such as one in which Michael Keaton is arrested and an even more bizarre one involving a box car race. The intent of these scenes is an attempt by director Vicky Jenson, an animated filmmaker (she helmed Shrek, among other projects) making her live-action debut, to widen the canvas to encompass Ryden's entire family. The film's success in that regard is dubious, but the presence of so much extraneous material reduces the romance to the point of trifling relevance. Hinging the ending on its resolution is therefore more than a little unsatisfying. The only reason these two characters have to be brought together at the end is because of a formula, but it's one that could have been violated in this case with little backlash. Post Grad ends up with a confused focus. It tries to be about the minefield of transitioning from college into the "real world," but gets sidetracked by a movie fantasy romance that never gains enough traction for us to truly care.

Carol Burnett, Jane Lynch, Michael Keaton, and J.K. Simmons (in a small part as Adam's dad) all get a comedic moment or two, but those isolated one-liners aren't enough to keep the movie afloat. Some of the material that is intended to be funny - such as a scene in which a flattened cat is buried in a pizza box - is probably more humorous in description than execution. More than one instance of comedy is sabotaged by poor timing. It's the same thing with the romance. For about 2/3 of the running time, this is treated as a minor subplot, then it becomes the thrust of the final reel. Post Grad could have used more Working Girl and less Some Kind of Wonderful. Maybe then it wouldn’t have been mired so deep in mediocrity as to be forgotten the moment the end credits fade.

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