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A female-heavy all-out comedy is such a rarely sighted species that you might very well cut Spring Breakdown some slack for the mere fact that it even exists. There's no bigger fan of the Apatow pictures than this reviewer, but they're basically a boys' club; the Farrell/Sandler comedies that begat them don't have much use for funny ladies either. When the Tina Fey/Amy Poehler-fronted Baby Mama did good business last year, word was that its success would bode well for Breakdown, another reteaming of Pohler with an SNL pal (this time, Rachel Dratch). No such luck; after screening out of competition at the Sundance Film Festival, it has indeed gone straight to disc. Conspiracy theorists have said that Warner Brothers was afraid that a comedy with an all-female cast couldn't hold its own at the box office. Sad to say, they may have just realized that it was a terribly uneven film that didn't have enough laughs.
Poehler, Dratch, and Parker Posey play best friends since college, where they were ostracized as outcasts (the opening credit sequence, in which they perform "True Colors" at a senior talent show, is pretty good). They assure each other that they'll show them all when they get out into the real world, but 15 years later, that's not the case; the trio have middling jobs and disastrous personal lives. Gayle (Poehler) is a guide dog trainer who can't pull a date with a blind client (Poehler's husband, Will Arnett from Arrested Development, wasted in a walk-on); Judi (Dratch) is about to marry William (SNL's Seth Meyers), who is clearly gay; and Becky (Posey), a certified cat lady, works as the mousy office manager for ballsy, gun-toting Texas senator Kay Bee Hartman (Jane Lynch, in a role clearly modeled on Kay Bailey Hutchison).
A scandal has removed the Vice President from office, and Hutchison, er, Hartman is at the top of the short list. The only worry is that her college-age daughter Ashley (Amber Tamblyn) will "pull a Bush twins" over spring break and embarrass the Senator, who sends Becky to Padre Island with orders to keep her little girl under the radar. Becky decides to bring her girls along for the kind of booze-and-boys trip they never had when they were nerdy college girls.
The situation is ripe with comic possibilities, and it's stocked to the gills with talented comic actors. Even the smallest supporting roles have gifted comediennes in them--for God's sake, Ashley's best friends are played by Anne from Arrested Development and Millie from Freaks and Geeks. Missi Pyle, as an over-the-hill party girl named Charlene, steals about every scene she's in. Sophie Monk's performance is about the only one in the film that doesn't work, and that's mostly because her British tongue can't pull off the character's Texas accent. So they've got the right actors, but the entire film plays like a first draft. The story (by Dratch and screenwriter/director Ryan Shiraki) provides a decent framework to hang gags and funny bits on, but the screenplay was in dire need of a punch-up. There are scattered laughs here and there, and it picks up considerably once they get to Padre (the twenty or so minutes of set-up are pretty painful), but it never builds up any kind of comic momentum or transcends its formulaic construction.It's tough to blame the film's spottiness on the performers. I've never been a fan of Dratch (she made me laugh exactly once on SNL--with her Harry Potter bit--and her rotating cameos in the first season of 30 Rock were that show's only drag), but her work here is energetic; she goes all the way for the joke, even if it's a weak one. On the other hand, I've always enjoyed Parker Posey, but there's a strangely vacant quality to her work here--there's a fine line between playing a dull character and playing a character dully, and I'm pretty sure she crosses that line. Tamblyn charms in what is surely the film's most thankless role, and Lynch continues to prove that she's one of the most valuable utility players in American comedy--you can just bring her in and let her go.
But Poehler owns the movie; she can spin a mediocre line into something laugh-out-loud funny (when they arrive at their dumpy beachfront hotel, she dryly observes, "Yeah, we're gonna get date-raped in there") and her timing is sharp as a tack (a college girl flashes them, and Poehler does a perfectly-executed slap across the face). But even she gets hobbled by the mechanics of the weak script. Shiraki's direction is also pretty pedestrian; the shooting style is as rote and unimaginative as your average single-camera TV comedy, with the flat-footedness of a late John Landis movie. It puts all the responsibility for maintaining the viewer's interest in the screenplay, and that's too heavy a burden for a script like this one to carry.The Blu-ray Disc:
Spring Breakdown is trumpeted as a release from "Warner Premiere: A Time-Warner Company," which is a fancy way of saying it's straight-to-DVD. It arrives on Blu in a two-disc set, with the film and features on the first disc and a digital copy for portable devices on the second.Video:
As mentioned, this is a pretty flat film visually, so there's not much here to blow away HD enthusiasts. That said, the 1080p VC-1 transfer is quite solid. The beach colors pop, detail is good, and blacks are deep and inky. Skin tones are mostly natural, if hued a bit too red in a couple of scenes. There's a touch of the expected grain and some excellent contrast in the 1.85:1 frame, while edge enhancement and DNR are nowhere to be found.Audio:
As we all know, dialogue-heavy comedies don't usually make for reference-quality audio presentation, though the abundance of loud bars, clubs, and beach parties make this a more active track than one might expect. The lack of lossless audio is slightly disappointing, but the 5.1 mix is good enough; directional effects are fine, dialogue is clear (even in loud bar scenes), and rear surround is subtle but present. A bit more weight on the low end wouldn't have hurt, but it's still a decent mix.Extras:
Bonus features are expectedly slim for a film unceremoniously dumped to the home video market. First we have an Audio Commentary by Dratch and Shiraki. The duo fumbles around a bit, and sometimes have trouble filling the time, but they have a nice chemistry and their off-the-cuff jokes are often funnier than the ones that made it into the film.
Next is a brief compilation of Additional Scenes (2:51 total); most are extensions of existing scenes, and offer no additional laughs. The Gag Reel (2:03) is a similarly mirthless affair; we're getting to the point where this is a required special feature for every comedy disc, whether they can put together a good one or not. As far as the BD-Live Features go, there were no extras for this film available as of this review (the day before its release)--just a truckload of trailers for other WB discs.Final Thoughts:
In spite of the promise of the cast and premise, and its occasional, isolated chuckles, Spring Breakdown is an unfortunately thin production. It ekes out a slim 78 minutes (not counting end credits) and runs out of gas before it even gets that far, trotting out a predictable climax that brings back the talent show from the opening sequence (complete with a montage of frantic rehearsal and practice). There are enough flashes of funny people doing funny stuff to give it a glance, but for the talent involved, it's quite a letdown.
Jason lives in New York. He holds an MA in Cultural Reporting and Criticism from NYU.