Justin Long

Accepted (2006)

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.

Released: 2006
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
Lang: English
Country: United States
Reviewed: 2017

10 Years

10 years

A high school classmate recently lamented that our ten year reunion had come and gone without celebration and that our fifteenth was probably not going to happen. Classmates wondered if anyone had the energy between work and babies to put one together, and I wondered if in the age of Facebook and other social media, people even organize high school reunions anymore. There was something dated about seeing friends get really excited about seeing friends, as if status updates, texting, and video chat didn’t exist. But maybe more to point, real life interaction is a cause for enthusiasm these days, and that is, for better or worse, a good reason to hold reunions and maybe even to make a film about one.

10 Years does everything you would expect from the genre, relying on familiar character types and situations. Jake (Channing Tatum) anchors the piece as a mortgage broker and erstwhile prom king. He wants to propose to his girlfriend (Jenna Dewan-Tatum) but has been waffling for no good reason. The unexpected appearance of his ex Mary (Rosario Dawson) is made more awkward when she arrives with her husband (Ron Livingston).

Jake also reconnects with his circle of friends, including high school sweethearts Cully (Chris Pratt) and Sam (Ari Graynor). They are married with children, but Cully still acts like one when he gets drunk. This results in obnoxious and failed attempts to apologize to former classmates for being a bully. High fliers Marty (Justin Long) and AJ (Max Minghella) don’t fare too well either. Though they are living deluxe, they don’t seem to have progressed past a college mentality and spend the night trying to show off to the hot girl Anna (Lynn Collins). When that doesn’t work, they end up pulling a prank you probably tried in grade school.

A few thankfully come off as well adjusted adults. Musician Reeves (Oscar Isaac) is the one who made it big. Despite his fame, he still has a crush on loner Elise (Kate Mara), and the two spend the evening in simmering flirtation. Meanwhile, Scott (Scott Porter) is happily settled in Japan with a positive attitude and few regrets. I can’t say this is the case for everyone, but way to take one for the expat team.

There are too many characters for any one to progress beyond a label, even ten years on. Also, the added presence of two non-white characters only serves to develop the others. Peter (Aaron Yoo) gets the brunt of Cully’s abuse while Andre (Anthony Mackie) emphasizes his white friend’s (Brian Geraghty) sliding scale of blackness. Still, a few performances stand out; Collins is in fine Juilliard form as the prom queen whose happily ever after turned out differently than she expected, and even Tatum appears judiciously restrained as the de facto central character.

The pedestrian nature of this film ends up being its saving grace. Unlike other reunion movies, 10 Years doesn’t strain itself to recreate an era or to make overwhelming assessments about its characters’ lives. It allows them to casually reveal some flaws and successes while hiding others. The best thing about it is its aching averageness, which better approximates not only a high school reunion but real life. No one is really a stunner, and in the Facebook age where people thrive on the pretense of perfection, it’s satisfying to see that most of us are just like everyone else. We still want to fit in, we are still trying to sort out our lives, and we still care about our friends. Maybe your own ten year reunion was more exciting, but for those of us who have yet to attend one, this movie is a fine substitute.

“Never Had” penned and sung by Oscar Isaac

Released: 2011
Prod: Marty Bowen, Reid Carolin, Wyck Godfrey, Channing Tatum
Dir: Jamie Linden
Writer: Jamie Linden
Cast: Channing Tatum, Rosario Dawson, Chris Pratt, Oscar Isaac, Justin Long, Max Minghella, Kate Mara, Lynn Collins, Jenna Dewan-Tatum, Ari Graynor, Scott Porter, Brian Geraghty, Anthony Mackie, Aubrey Plaza, Aaron Yoo, Nick Zano, Ron Livingston
Time: 100 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Reviewed: 2014

The Conspirator

the conspirator

In parallel tales of plans gone awry, this movie about conspirators of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination goes much the same way as the assassins and assailants. Many stories are told about Lincoln, fewer about those who killed him, fewer still about Mary Surratt, the lone woman convicted of and hanged for her role in the president’s murder.

Director Robert Redford and James D. Solomon seize on this forgotten piece of Americana but in doing so, they trade a compelling story for a dull civics lesson on due process. Surratt, the filmmakers tell us, was a victim of a distrusting and vengeful climate stirred up by the Civil War and Lincoln’s death. Secretary of War Edwin Stanton (played as a non-entity by Kevin Kline) and the War Department, eager to restore calm and its authority hastily mounted a military trial for the civilian defendants.

And so 1865 Washington becomes the landscape for which Redford and company ask Americans to examine their own post-9/11 pursuit of justice, namely Guantanamo. Surratt’s guilt or innocence is immaterial and the film does little to explore that. Instead, it uses history to indict and judge present day actions and how the country does or does not continue to play loose with the Constitution.

This makes for a useful extra credit project for a high school history class but not for a good film. In choosing agenda over narrative, the filmmakers lose the stories of the people at the heart of it. Robin Wright delivers a wrought and finely tuned performance as Surratt, but her character remains literally and figuratively wrapped under layers of black silk. Only in certain moments does she become an active player in the drama of a president’s assassination. One such time is when her daughter Anna, played with restrained anguish by Evan Rachel Wood, testifies against her brother on her behalf, and the two are kept apart by a curtain of soldiers despite tearful protestation.

Similarly, Surratt’s inexperienced defender Frederick Aiken does little more than stand in as the film’s righteous conscience. James McAvoy has little character to draw on but plenty of platitudes, which he delivers with vigor. But these quickly bore and annoy Aiken’s miscast and poorly written friends, including Justin Long and Alexis Bledel, who also want to hear something more substantial than constant cries for a fair trial and about nebulous American ideals.

The story of Lincoln’s assassination is one of many unexplored strands, but these are not used to ground the historical characters and events of “The Conspirator.” One is treated to a parade of names and facts but comes away with no clearer sense about the people who (may have) conspired to kill the president nor the people involved in the trial.

Released: 2010
Prod: Robert Redford, Brian Falk, Bill Holderman
Dir: Robert Redford
Writer: James D. Solomon
Cast: James McAvoy, Robin Wright, Tom Wilkinson, Kevin Kline, Evan Rachel Wood, Johnny Simmons, Alexis Bledel, Justin Long, Danny Huston, Toby Kebbell, Norman Reedus, Stephen Root, Jonathan Groff, John Cullum, Colm Meaney
Time: 123 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Reviewed: 2014