Wednesday, 3 January 2007

Accepted (DVD) (2006)

Ah, the weird initiation rites of college

The campus comedy genre has by now just completed one full cycle of creativity, stagnation, and rejuvenation - the last phase famously ushered in by movies like Road Trip and Old School, while the entire Revenge of the Nerds saga chronicled the earlier rise and fall of the same genre from 1984 to 1994. The genre is quite straightforward: pre-rejuvenation of the genre, the losers, slackers, and other assorted underachievers enter college and proceed to gain self-worth while fending off humiliation and rejection from the jocks and the conservative members of the faculty (Revenge of the Nerds). Post-rejuvenation, the losers, slackers and other assorted underachievers recreate their experiences of humililation and tribulation from the distance of time - either retelling and embellishing the tale (Road Trip), or through reliving it in a reenactment (Old School).

It is a strange thing that coming at what we would consider the rejuvenation phase of the genre, Accepted basically takes the familiar elements of both periods of the campus comedy and meshes them together, producing an even more familiar cinematic offering that one would imagine possible if its writers had stuck to just filling in the template of either period. It is stranger still that Accepted does have a somewhat original (albeit Old School-ish) premise that you'd never expect to descend softly and gently into familiar ground after a mere half hour in the film.

But for your cerebral entertainment, here's the most original thing about Accepted: smart aleck goof-off Bartleby (Justin Long, the guy who plays the Mac in Apple's Get a Mac commercials) and his 2 buddies discover after graduating from high school that no college (or "university", for us folks in the UK and the Commonwealth) would accept them. Hence, the need to set up a fake university (or college), complete with website, application forms with authentic-looking mastheads, and an entire campus to fool their parents into thinking they has been accepted. Presumably the amount of work that goes into the deception far outweighs the social shame of not attending college. Of course, when you set up a deception on such a comprehensive scale, it's impossible to keep it secret, and pretty soon 300 fellow rejectees from other colleges turn up at the front door of the South Hampton Institute of Technology (I kid you not about the name or the initials of the college!) demanding entrance. And because this is a college comedy, the prospect of empowering rejects and losers (as well as heading his own college) prompts Bartleby to operate the college as if it is the real deal.

It's suprising then that the scriptwriters fail to make an iconic film out of this intriguing mixture of overfamiliar tropes and occasional creative ideas. Perhaps the talent of comedian Lewis Black (from the Daily Show fame) is squandered in his thin role as the candid (i.e. frothing at the mouth) and radical former academic who Bartleby and friends rope in as the Dean of the school. The scriptwriters also miss the boat at a chance for a stronger and pungent satire of the education system. Instead, much of the comedy derives from the over-familiar tropes of teenagers slacking off in style in their own college, an obligatory love interest with a barely-formed subplot, the students' rivalry with the uptight frat boys from the legitimate and prestigious college across the road that culminates in what else but a phoney court battle. The lack of research that would have gone into making Accepted a great film shows easily: apparently Adam Cooper and Bill Collage are unaware of the Nordic folk high schools that basically operate like Bartleby's radical and hippy "make your own course, teach your own peers" educational programme.

As a comedy, Accepted is entertaining but not great. One would've wanted more of Lewis Black than Justin Long, who one wishes had better luck choosing his first leading comic role. On the whole, though, Accepted is certainly worth the rental and the easy laughs it generates.

First published at incinemas on 1 February 2007

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