Saturday, October 27, 2012

Tricks and Treats: FUN SIZE

The worst thing about Fun Size, a one-crazy-night teen comedy set on Halloween, is that it’s so close to being better than it is. As it stands, it is not difficult to see the funnier movie within that nearly bursts through. The set-up is simple enough. Teenage girl Wren (Victoria Justice) wants to go to a party with her best friend April (Jane Levy), but plans change when her mom (Chelsea Handler) saddles her with babysitting duties. So, while Mom goes out partying with her new boyfriend, Wren and friend set out trick-or-treating with her pudgy, uncommunicative little brother Albert (Jackson Nicoll), who, wouldn’t you know it, wanders away. This leads to an episodic scramble around town to find the kid before the night is over or Mom gets home, whichever comes first. 

Director Josh Schwartz (creator-showrunner of such TV shows as The O.C., Gossip Girl, and Chuck in his feature debut) and screenwriter Max Werner (who writes for The Colbert Report) have a way with snappy teen dialogue that benefits greatly from the solid performances from the leads. They’re believable teens who are somewhat torn between going to that huge party and finding Albert, but there’s the main problem. In order for the madcap scramble of the plot to truly take off, there needs to be considerably more urgency in this main plotline. The movie sets up a situation that seems to be heading towards the girls getting into increasing trouble looking for Albert, but instead the plot meanders and seems to forget that there’s a little boy wandering into dangerous scenarios, like a rift between a gas station employee (Thomas Middleditch) and the guy (Johnny Knoxville) who stole his girl (Abby Elliott), a subplot that goes nowhere fast.

All of the ostensible danger inherent within all this plotting seems so distant that there’s no real reason to think anything bad will happen to the boy or that their mom will find out about the antics. The movie is built upon a crisis that fades into the back of the mind, something to be brought up only to prod the story along. But what little story there is can be thinly amusing, as is the way the background is perpetually crowded with all manner of people wandering about in goofy costumes. The girls find two sweet nerds (Thomas Mann and Osric Chau) not-so-secretly crushing on them who are more than willing to give them a ride around town as they try to find the missing kid. I liked the scene in which Wren tells one of the boys that she considers him a friend, a revelation that causes him to drop his can of Crush soda. “My Crush…” he murmurs. Later, the group and his car will be involved in the best sequence in the movie, a solid, escalating bit of hilarity that involves a Josh Groban song, an angry Roman Gladiator with his Hulk friend in a big truck, and a giant malfunctioning mechanical chicken.

Schwartz approaches the material in a slick, quickly paced way that frames the action with functional studio comedy style, shifting the emphasis to the charming young performers in the film’s center. In a John Hughes-reminiscent touch the film has a welcome focus on its female leads, with Justice (who spent several years appearing in Nickelodeon sitcoms, all unseen by me) and Levy (so good as the lead in ABC’s Suburgatory, at least in the couple of episodes I’ve caught) sharing a believable best-friend chemistry that’s at once warm and prickly. It’s a shame that so much of their interactions hinge on social status and boy talk, but that’s just par for the course I suppose. This is a standard movie of smart, pretty girls and endearingly dweeby guys in a predictable plot filled with one-note comedic characters that walk in and out of their scenes without making much of an impact. Although some subplots, like Handler’s, veer off into welcome changes of pace, the whole thing comes around to precisely the romantic pairings and emotional resolutions you’d easily guess that it would. And, despite the modicum of laughs along the way, in the end it’s just a little bit less than enough. I guess that means Fun Size is to teen comedies as a fun size piece of candy is to full-size candy bars.

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