Bart Got a Room
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Bart Got a Room

There seems to be a strange fascination on the part of adults with movies concerning those seemingly endless days spent in high school. For most people they were literally the best and worst of times. We had our entire lives still stretching out before us while undergoing the greatest period of physical, psychological and emotional changes we would ever experience. Films concerning this turbulent time allow adults to relive those times from the relative safety that is afforded by the intervening years. When considering a flick such as Bart Got A Room’ it is simple to understand why teen age boys will go for it but the fact is the movie does have a much broader appeal than you might expect. I admit that when the screen arrived I thought this would be just another in a long line of mindless, juvenile teen sex romps. As I began to watch it I found myself laughing and genuinely having an enjoyable time. It is not that this film is very different in subject matter from the rest of the pack; it looks at that perennial mating ritual popular here in America, prom night. The characters are all archetypes we have seen many times before and will undoubtedly see many time in the future. What elevated this movie above its peers is it was just fun to watch. Sometimes it is not possible to fully analyze an experience, it is enough to sit back and enjoy it. The flick embodies the Indy movie spirit. Made for about two million dollars it premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival prior to the usual festival circuit. There was a very limited theatrical run followed now by a DVD release by Anchor Bay. This is the kind of movie that is intended as pure wacky entertainment. Nothing here is intended to be taken seriously so have a few friends over, get a case of beer and a couple of pizza pies and get ready for an afternoon with a few carefree laughs.

By his own admission this film is autobiographical for writer director Brian Hecker. This is a flick about a high school nerd written by someone who could honestly recant the tale through a first person narrative. Perhaps this fact is a major contribution to the success of this comedy. It is basically an adult looking back at an experience most of us have endured in one form or another. Most films exploring these themes are ‘R’ rated; filled with gratuitous sex, drugs and alcohol. This work came with a tamer ‘PG-13’ which does mean that the numerous sexual references are at least not as explicit as you usually get. Considering this is Hecker’s first feature length film as both writer and director he exhibited an amazing degree of restraint juxtaposed with a sense of wild abandon at its core. Hecker provides a screenplay here that reminded me of some of the stories by Jean Shepherd in the way it stirs up a nostalgic feel in the audience. In his choices as the director Hecker nicely avoids the typical gross out humor that current seems to define the genre. This film proves that it is possible to look at a potentially sexual situation like senior prom without going over the line; at least by too much.

For many American teenagers the senior prom is a rite of passage. For the girls it will hopefully be the most romantic night thus far in their young lives. The boys typically have different expectations of a far more straightforward goal; sex. Danny Stein (Steven Kaplan) is a senior in a small retirement community in Florida. He is a good student and likeable although not one of the popular crowd. In other word he is considered a geek. Danny begins to plot that all so special night going down the usual checklist of prom requirement. These include the typical items such as tuxedo, limo and perhaps a corsage but the requirement that most eludes Danny is the most important; he is desperate for a date. The lamentable Danny can’t catch a break with the opposite sex. He tries asking sophomore female friend, Camille (Alia Shawkat) but she turns him down. They are best friends and she wants to keep their relationship on that level. It may seem that things couldn’t be worse for Danny but it does when he discovers the biggest loser in the school, the titular Bart Beeber (Chad Jamian Williams) not only managed to get a date but also has secured a hotel room for the festivities after the big dance. It was more than humiliating for Danny to be out done by the guy at the nadir of the social hierarchy. Unlike most flicks about prom night this one includes a larger part for the adults. It comes about naturally sine it take place in Hollywood, Florida; which is basically a retirement community populated by older Jewish people. This first time film maker scored big with the actors cast as Danny’s parents, playing Ernie, the dad is the incredible character actor and leading man William H. Macy. As always his deadpan face and understated delivery sells the role completely. Also present although underutilized is Cheryl Hines. They are divorced and as clueless as to their new single status as is their son. This turns out to be the ideal cast for a movie like this. They infuse the film with a comic efficiency that comes across as a dry almost dark comedy feel. In most films of this ilk I have sentry too hard going over the line of good taste to tell a coherent story. Kaplan has am almost laid back appeal that is a refreshing change from the typical puerile foolishness that most leads of this genre foster. Over all this film has its flaws but it is an entertaining and consistently funny movie.

Posted 07/22/09

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