Bartleby (Justin Long, "Dodgeball") is a high school dreamer who can't seem to convince a college to accept him. When the humiliation of his rejection becomes too much to stand, Bartleby invents his own college as a way to placate his parents and buy him some time to figure things out. Involving a select few of his friends (including Jonah Hill and Maria Thayer), and a hiring curdled cynic for a dean (comedian Lewis Black), Bartleby gets his college off the ground. What starts off as delight that his scam worked soon turns to horror when word gets out, and every scholastic loser in the area wants in as well.
While viewing the new college comedy "Accepted," a thought kept swirling around my head: why isn't this movie funnier?
That's not to suggest "Accepted" is unpleasant to watch; the picture is quite the amiable sit, partially due to the flexibility of the genre and the determination by first-time director Steve Pink to coast on the concept alone. If anything is assured by the end of the film, it's that Justin Long is ready to topline many comedies to come. While his 28 year-old face has a hard time passing for a teenager (much less a romantic interest for 19 year-old co-star Blake Lively), Long's gusto for the role really gives the film oomph when it needs it the most.
I was also quite taken with Jonah Hill, the brief scene-stealer from "40 Year-Old Virgin" (he was the character who wanted to buy the Ebay disco boots). Hill has a nice grip on his sarcasm, and leads the cast on the laugh scoreboard. However, Pink doesn't use Hill to his full comedic potential, instead using Hill's character as a feature of the needless dramatic portion of the film. Yet, as a major co-star of this comedy, the young, rotund actor still makes a memorable, hilarious debut.
The trouble with "Accepted" is that it's unwilling to make that leap to a throw-down collegiate comedy, along the lines of "Old School." Pink co-wrote two of the best films of the last 10 years, "Grosse Pointe Blank" and "High Fidelity," but he lacks the confidence to get the material out of second gear. His inexperience as a director is revealed too many times to count during the film, but this is hardly brain surgery. Too often, "Accepted" doesn't lunge for that killer joke, the perfect casting, or the right direction for the story. It's bursting with potential (Judd Apatow's college television series "Undeclared" is a perfect example of how incredibly ripe for laughs this setting can be), but somehow Pink can't cash in the premise for the most bellylaughs. Heavy screentime flutters by without any juicy comedic situations to enjoy, and that lost opportunity seems downright criminal.
There's a theme running through "Accepted" on the futility of the modern college system. It isn't hateful to higher education, but questions the priorities of the students who willingly succumb to the expensive grind. Even though the film is full of comic whiffs, "Accepted" earns points for even suggesting that college isn't nearly the towering black monolith the institution has become.
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