Accepted passes with a low C, which is about the same average grade that the students in this film receive and the reason why they have trouble getting accepted into traditional four year colleges. Bartleby (Justin Long) is one of these seniors. His father has high hopes for him, and those begin with a degree from Harmon College. When he doesn’t make the cut, Bartleby has to trick his dad into thinking he’s still college-bound. He asks his best friend and incoming Harmon freshman, Sherman (Jonah Hill) to create a website for a fictional school to placate his father. A fake acceptance letter and webpage prove insufficient though, and Bartleby finds himself having to create and run an entire school to maintain the façade.
He has a support from a few other drifters. Football star Hands (Columbus Short) loses his athletic scholarship after an injury, brain Rory (Maria Thayer) is rejected by Yale, the only school she applied to, and spacey Glen (Adam Herschman) is just biding his time as a gas station attendant. All of them want something more than a seat in rejection limbo while they wait for another shot at college, so they help Bartleby spruce up an abandoned building that will serve as South Harmon Institute of Technology, or S.H.I.T. Things indeed go to shits when Sherman’s website accidentally sends acceptance letters to prospective students, resulting in a deluge of freshmen on the first day of fake class.
There’s not much room for things to escalate. Bartleby and friends must immediately find ways to cope with actual expectations, and sending students, or their checks, home is not an option. As he tries to keep order though, a funny thing happens and some semblance of class and learning begin to take shape. Unburdened by the academic rigors of an accredited school, the students explore their own interests and craft their versions of degrees and coursework. We see them become adept at woodwork, fashion and design, and skateboarding, which I’ll assume requires some knowledge of physics.
The movie’s energy comes largely from Bartleby averting one crises after another. If he’s not trying to fool his father, he’s trying to impress his high school crush (Blake Lively) or fend off a land grab from Harmon College’s dean. It’s unsophisticated tension that comes from wildly unbelievable yet still predictable scenarios. Everything that could go wrong at a fake college does, from holes in dorm room walls to wacky fill-in dean (Lewis Black) to unexpected parental visits. The humor is lifeless, run-of-the-mill stuff that doesn’t even land with a thud; it just lands, ignored.
But amidst the antics, Accepted does push an argument for education reform or at least expose some cracks in our tertiary school system. It’s not the most compelling defense for why we should reexamine higher education but at least it is one. Bartleby demonstrates intelligence, curiosity, and resourcefulness, qualities we try to cultivate in students and desire in graduates. There’s no reason why more students like him and those at S.H.I.T. shouldn’t have more opportunities that conform to their needs rather than the other way around. One of the few moments that gets an above average grade is when Bartleby realizes that his school didn’t attract a bunch of lazy misfits but a group of people left out because of their unconventional interests and motivations.
Prod: Tom Shadyac, Michael Bostick
Dir: Steve Pink
Writer: Adam Cooper, Bill Collage, Mark Perez
Cast: Justin Long, Jonah Hill, Blake Lively, Columbus Short, Maria Thayer, Adam Herschman, Mark Derwin, Anthony Heald
Time: 92 min
Country: United States