Crude and cloying farce doesn’t make the grade

The Best and the Brightest

on June 21, 2011 by John P. McCarthy
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All you need to know about this low-budget farce is that Amy Sedaris costars (yippee!) and New York pol Anthony Weiner would feel right at home with the sexting subplot (eeeuw!). While lampooning Manhattan's posh, moneyed classes, frosh director Josh Shelov and screenwriting partner Patrick Jaeger venture into raunchy cybersex and downtown sex clubs. Too bad their comedic aptitude doesn't match their fondness for risqué dialogue; and, worse, they felt compelled to offset the ribaldry with schmaltz. Strictly bush league, save for a few bravura performances, The Best and the Brightest offers a snapshot of New York that only fly-overs, or Weiner's Twitter followers (tweeps), will buy into.

The title refers to prospective kindergarten enrollees at Manhattan's exclusive private schools. Although most are still in utero that doesn't stop their overachieving or trust-funded parents from doing all they can to land their future little geniuses a spot. Enter the Jasinkis, a wide-eyed Delaware couple with no connections or money, played by Neil Patrick Harris and Bonnie Somerville. They foolishly believe they can place their 5-year-old daughter in one of these elite, über selective institutions. Sedaris portrays the pithy, fashion-challenged consultant they hire to make it happen. Because it's such a long shot, she goes for broke. The husband is a computer programmer but she has him pass himself off as a talented writer about to publish a book of lewdly erotic poetry culled from online chat sessions and correspondence. Hoity-toity Gothamites swallow it like catnipin particular, the headmistress of the Coventry Day School and a trio of influential board members. (Mr. Weiner, there's still hope.)

Arguably, the most damning thing about The Best and the Brightest is that its antics could take place anywhere (NYC skyline not required) and frequently resemble an episode of Love, American Style. Paul Bartel's genuinely outrageous 1989 flick Scenes from the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills is a better example of the sort of location and class specific spoofing that Best and Brightest is trying for. The film's funniest moment was a sight gag in which Sedaris' character is seen dragging a body across the floor of an elegant Upper East Side townhouse. Indeed, the underachieving picture is carried along by the gleeful will of Sedaris, Christopher McDonald and Kate Mulgrew, who sink their veteran chops into a horny big shot and his shrewish politician wife. (John Hodgman earns a positive mention for dryly intoning smut whilst wearing a bow tie). If you're expecting the hilarious Neil Patrick Harris of Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle, his sitcom or Emmy broadcasts, you'll be disappointed. He limns the straight man hereand he's pretty lifelessly playing it straight. The production is painfully over-scored, to the point there mustn't have been any coin left over for makeup or costumes. (Sedaris appears to be wearing her own kitschy wardrobe.) Perhaps realizing their scenario lacked legs and their plotting was clichéd, Shelov and Jaeger resorted to sophomoric sex talk and situations. Some readers may assume that any movie containing multiple references to "Cleveland steamers" can't be all bad. Trust me, The Best and the Brightest comes darn close.

Distributor: Big Indie Pictures
Cast: Neil Patrick Harris, Bonnie Somerville, Amy Sedaris, Jenna Stern, Christopher McDonald, Kate Mulgrew, John Hodgman
Director: Josh Shelov
Screenwriters: Josh Shelov, Patrick Jaeger
Producers: Robert Weiser, Patricia Weiser, Nicholas Simon
Genre: Comedy
Rating: R for pervasive language, sexual content and some nudity
Running time: 93 min.
Release date: June 24 NY/LA

 

Tags: Neil Patrick Harris, Bonnie Somerville, Amy Sedaris, Jenna Stern, Christopher McDonald, Kate Mulgrew, John Hodgman, Josh Shelov, Patrick Jaeger, Robert Weiser, Patricia Weiser, Nicholas Simon
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