By Noah Forrest Forrest@moviecitynews.com
The Best and the Brightest (Dir. Josh Shelov)
I’m a sucker for silly adult comedies, perhaps because they simply don’t make that many of them these days. I adore films like A Fish Called Wanda or Ruthless People that rely on broad humor, bordering on slapstick, but are aimed to appeal to more discerning audiences, but I’m having difficult remembering the last film that even attempted to mine such territory. The slapstick comedies we get instead are mostly parodies that seem like they were shot over the weekend with a B-list cast of characters that are just hamming it up at every possible turn. I’m sorry, but I don’t think seeing someone getting kicked in the nuts is that funny anymore.
The Best and the Brightest is like a breath of fresh, silly air. It doesn’t take itself seriously at all and instead of trying to fire out a joke every two seconds, co-writer/director Josh Shelov allows the humor to comedy from the well-drawn characters and set-pieces. This film has an awareness that most modern farces don’t have, which is: create a misunderstanding that may be beneficial to one set of characters, then put those characters in a situation where the misunderstanding that had worked out to their advantage suddenly seems to teeter on the precipice of disaster. The Best and the Brightest is at its zenith when it milks those situations for all they are worth.
The film stars Neil Patrick Harris and Bonnie Somerville as a young couple who have just moved to New York City from Delaware with their five year old daughter. Their first order of business seems fairly easy: enroll their daughter in a private school. However, the parents soon find out that NYC private schools start their recruitment process fairly early (like the womb) and the odds of getting their daughter into kindergarten by the fall seem pretty low, especially since they are not exactly Rockefellers and don’t have any country club friends. So they enlist the help of a consultant (Amy Sedaris) who specializes in helping parents get their kids into private elementary schools. Chaos – and chuckles – ensue.
I’m hesitant to give any more information about the plot because many of the film’s biggest laughs are tied to it, which is one of the film’s biggest strengths. So often it seems like we’re given scenes in comedies that occur solely for laughs, but here the comedy is coming from such a genuine and organic place. It’s almost like a long Seinfeld episode, where describing one scene becomes difficult because it’s so intricately interwoven into the fabric of the script, making it near impossible to tell about one scene without describing the twenty that got you there. But I will say that a major plot point hinges on the fact that Sedaris’ character has told a white lie about how Harris’ character is actually a poet with a collection coming out. Due to a mix-up, his friend Clark (Peter Serafinowicz, stealing every scene he’s in) accidentally slips Harris dirty text messages and instant messages that he’s printed out, which the stuffy members of the school board take to be poetry…and they find it brilliant. As a result, the scenes of characters reading Harris’ poetry are easily the funniest parts of the film.
That’s another thing that surprised me about the film: the willingness to go to darker places. One would think that a film that hinges on a little girl getting into elementary school would be a “family comedy” with a lot of emphasis on the little girl and how adorable she is. But, that’s not the case with this film. There are no cutesy scenes where the little girl is all precocious. The adults are the focus here and they talk with “adult” language, even though they act like the biggest babies imaginable.
Bonnie Somerville is given the difficult task of playing a character that could easily border on shrill, but she makes us care deeply; she’s likable and plucky and we want her to succeed in her desire to do something different with her life. Neil Patrick Harris is great – almost nobody can do deadpan the way he does – but I almost wish he was given a little bit more to do. Christopher McDonald and Kate Mulgrew are good as a power couple on the board of trustees at the school that the parents decide on. John Hodgeman (of The Daily Show) is hilarious in his few scenes, doing his usual shtick. Amy Sedaris is given a role that is right in her wheelhouse, fast-talking and endearingly mean, which she predictably hits out of the park. But for me the real surprise was Peter Serafinowicz, who you might remember as Sctanley in Couples Retreat, because his character is such a buffoon and those are almost always the roles that wind up being too broad and ridiculous. But Serafinowicz finds the sweet spot and makes Clark into a character that is unapologetic, without an ounce of selflessness in him, and because of the matter-of-fact way that Serafinowicz portrays him, it almost makes him oddly likable.
I would recommend that you see this film in theaters except for one small problem: there’s no release date. This is what happens when you make a film for very little money these days: it’s easier to just slap Neil Patrick Harris’ face on a DVD cover instead of making prints and marketing the film. But I feel like this would be such a missed opportunity since this is a film that truly relies on an audience to help to sell the jokes (like most comedies). Of course, if the film had cost a ton more money because the filmmakers weren’t budget-conscious, then of course studios would release it in 2000 theaters. It’s funny the way it works; if you’re irresponsible with someone else’s money, then you get rewarded with a huge roll-out. Anyway, I implore distribution company to at least show this film in a few theaters, because I really believe word-of-mouth will be strong.
Full disclosure: I know director Josh Shelov, been friendly with him for a few years. I told him before I saw The Best and the Brightest that if I didn’t like it, I wasn’t going to write about it. It was a huge relief that I liked it. It’s not the greatest comedy ever made and I suspect it won’t be for all audiences, but it’s definitely more enjoyable that most of the muck that passes for comedy these days. Whenever it winds up coming out, whether it’s on DVD or in theaters, check it out. It would be hard for someone to have a bad time watching this movie. You might not love it, but you’ll have a few chuckles at least.
The Best and the Brightest is premiering at the Philadelphia Film Festival in late October.