By Dennis Hartley
(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on August 22, 2009)
Although it “looks” like one of those indie comedies about quirky families (Little Miss Sunshine, Juno), Post Grad is populated by characters who would have felt more at home in a mid-1980s John Hughes vehicle; in an odd way this makes it pleasantly anachronistic.
You could almost picture Molly Ringwald as Ryden Malby (Alexis Bledel), a college lit major whose post-graduation dream is to jump right into the career track at a major L.A. publishing house. You have the male childhood friend (and fellow grad) Adam (Zach Gilford) who secretly pines away for her while gallantly respecting the platonic reality (yes…he is, and will forever be…her Duckman).
You even have the Hated Rival. Her name is Jessica (played to the hilt with amusingly snobby arrogance by Catherine Reitman) and she’s been Ryden’s academic arch-nemesis since high school. Much to Ryden’s chagrin, Jessica (along with her other fellow grads) all manage to breeze into immediate employment (obviously, the film was not made with the current economic realities in mind). Her road to that dream job runs into some bumps; consequently she faces every grad’s worst nightmare: Moving back in with the family.
This brings us to the Batshit Crazy Yet Lovable Family. There’s the D.I.Y. Dad (Michael Keaton, at times recalling his character in Night Shift) who manages a luggage store, but who is always dreaming up quirky money-making schemes on the side (he’s got one word of fatherly advice for his daughter…not “plastics”, but “buckles”).
Mom (Jane Lynch) divides her time between pinching pennies and reining in Ryden’s weird, sock-puppet wielding little brother (Bobby Coleman) who gets into trouble at school for, uh, licking his classmates; he apparently finds their heads particularly appealing.
And don’t forget Grandma (a scene-stealing Carol Burnett, still an absolute riot at 76) who makes her grand entrance at Ryden’s graduation ceremony replete with clanging portable oxygen bottle and a rather noisy bag of Cheetos (not the only glaring product placement-Eskimo Pies get more screen time than some of the cast).
There’s not a lot of room for character development within the film’s breezy 90-minute running time (don’t expect anything much deeper than a slightly better than average sitcom episode), but the cast is game, there are some genuinely funny scenes and at its heart the film is so amiable that it’s hard not to like it.
The only misstep of note is a subplot about a flirtation between Ryden and her 30-something neighbor, a wannabe filmmaker who directs TV infomercials (played by Brazilian beefcake Rodrigo Santoro). It doesn’t convince; and the romantic chemistry isn’t there between Bledel and Santoro. Bledel has a charming screen presence, although she is handily upstaged by Keaton, Lynch and Burnett
This is the first feature-length “live action” film for director Vicky Jenson, who has a background in animation (she previously co-directed Shark Tale and Shrek). It’s also the feature film debut for screenwriter Kelly Fremon. Ivan Reitman (who directed Ghostbusters and Stripes) produced; which might explain the film’s 80s vibe.
Frankly the chief reason I was intrigued to screen the film was the vague inference in the trailer that it might signal Hollywood’s acknowledgment of our economic woes; it looks like we’ll still have to wait for Michael Moore’s upcoming Capitalism: A Love Story for that. In the meantime, don’t lose any sleep if you miss Post Grad in theaters, although it may be worth a rental on a slow night.