by Mel Valentin
Directed by Steve Pink ("High Fidelity," "Gross Pointe Blank") and written by Adam Cooper and Bill Collage, "Accepted" is the rarest of teen-oriented comedies, a refreshing comedy with not just strong laughs from start to finish, or even a semi-compelling storyline and characters worth rooting for, or even a theme or two that's more subversive than offensive, but more importantly (at least for this reviewer), humor that rarely, if ever, descends into low-brow, scatological (a/k/a toilet) humor. For most adult moviegoers, that'll be a plus (admittedly, though, it might not be enough to convince them to see "Accepted" theatrically).Like his Melvillian namesake (Herman, not Jean-Pierre), Bartleby Gaines (Justin Long) has spent his high school career amassing a spectacularly underwhelming resume of underachievement. With mediocre grades and poor test scores, it's unlikely that Bartleby will get into a "good" college as his parents, Jack (Mark Derwin) and Diane (Ann Cusack), hope and expect. Disaster strikes when Bartleby discovers that even his safety school has rejected him. To make matters worse, he can't take solace in an understanding girlfriend. The girl of his dreams, Monica (Blake Lively), is way outside his league, already has a boyfriend in a superficial jock, and got into Harmon University, the most prestigious school in the area, for the fall semester.
"A smart, subversive teen comedy? Indeed."
Not one to disappoint his parents, Bartleby enlists the help of his best friend and computer whiz, Sherman (Jonah Hill), to create a convincing website for the fictitious South Harmon Institute of Technology (S.H.I.T.). The ruse works, and Jack's father hands him a check for $10,000 dollars and a promise to drive him to school in the fall. Bartleby's preternaturally smart sister, Lizzie (Hannah Marks), suspects something's not right. Bartleby isn't alone, though, in facing a college-free future. Hands (Columbus Short), an artistically inclined ex-athlete, is also out of luck, due to a sports injury and a now-absent scholarship. Rory (Maria Thayer), an overachiever who aimed too high (she applied to Yale and didn't get in), faces similar circumstances. The group is rounded out by a supreme slacker, Glen (Adam Herschman), who didn't both applying to college and can't hold down a menial job.
With the help of his friends, Bartleby uses his father's check as seed money, leasing a rundown mental asylum, cleaning it up, and hiring Sherman's uncle and former academic, Ben (Lewis Black), as the acting dean of South Harmon Institute of Technology. Bartleby's scam goes from bad to worse when he discovers Sherman's website has worked all too well, leading to a same-day appearance of 300 college students. In short order, Bartleby gives a speech about rejection and education and welcomes the new students. He even allows them to design their own classes. Meanwhile, the dean (Anthony Heald) of Harmon University, wants nothing more than to expand his university's property line and Bartleby's property stands in the way.
Accepted follows the well-worn, formulaic pattern in the tiny subset of college comedies that became part of popular culture with 1978's Animal House, meaning we have an underachieving, anti-authoritarian, marginalized, but still resourceful hero, a grab bag of supporting characters/clichés, a hissable villain in a strict, authoritarian dean and pretty boy jocks and frat types, and a fond recognition that the best years of our lives involve almost limitless freedom with a minimum of responsibility, plus tons of wishful thinking about creativity, imagination, and reforming the educational system. Bartleby's an underdog, so we root for him, even if his questionable behavior skirts illegality (recognizing that much would be spoiling the fun).More importantly (and less seriously), "Accepted" is a comedy, and story or themes aside, if it's not funny, if it's not consistently laugh-out-loud funny, it's not worth recommending. Surprisingly, it is, liberally including one-liners, sight gags, and character-driven humor in equal amounts from the earliest scene through the predictable ending. While no one in the cast will be nominated for awards, they all turn in serviceable performances. Fans of comedian/provocateur Lewis Black will be happy to know that he has more than a walk-on cameo in "Accepted." In fact, Black is given the opportunity to angrily let loose on everything and anything four or five times. Some of Black's shtick is hilarious (some, not so much), but his presence doesn't overwhelm the rest of the film. Yes, that means "Accepted" deserves everything coming to it, e.g., a surprisingly solid, reservation-free recommendation.
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originally posted: 08/28/06 09:28:42