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Moments Of Brilliance In A Wildly Uneven Script--Fun, But Should Have Been Great
on August 1, 2011
There are few enough unapologetically wicked comedies made for an adult audience, so I really wanted to love "The Best and the Brightest." With Neil Patrick Harris, Bonnie Somerville, and the incomparable Amy Sedaris--this had all the earmarks of being an undiscovered gem. As a successful satire on the competitive world of primary education in New York society, the film hits it on the nose. As a blisteringly funny look at the contemporary literary scene, the movie really excels. There are plenty of awkward laughs and this is an easy recommendation for those that like confrontational in-your-face humor--but the individual components may be stronger than the film taken in its entirety. A wildly uneven script keeps this from being a true classic. With both of the aforementioned satiric elements in place, the film stumbles too often on the connecting narrative.
Harris and Somerville play new inhabitants to the Big City, leaving a settled existence in Delaware behind them. I guess Harris' boring accounting job had an opening in New York because practical issues like this are never explored. Somerville felt trapped in Delaware and wanted to give life one more try before compromising her dreams. Just one problem, she has no apparent dreams or ambitions. She wanted to move to New York City, live in a dump, and put her daughter in a privileged school? It makes little sense and gets no real attention by the script, you just have to take the sketchy character development at face value. Of course, she wants her daughter to attend the most prestigious school (despite living in the previously mentioned one room dump and not having an income. Harris must make bank!) so she enlists Sedaris as a consultant to navigate the difficult interview process. I love Sedaris in absolutely everything, but here she is such an unorthodox misfit--it never makes sense how she has connections to the elite world of the uppercrust.
If you can get by the logic-challenging moments of the narrative and the lack of real character motivation, the film does have some very bright spots. Masquerading as a poet by using colorful, sexually explicit emails--Harris gets the film's funniest sequences. It's so perfect--especially as a book club tries to infuse meaning into the inappropriate rants. The film is a comedy of rudeness and ruthlessness--its message being if you want something badly enough, any amount of lying and manipulation is justified. As such, there is blackmailing, adultery, and every bad act imaginable utilized in the quest for kindergarten enrollment. Sometimes funny, sometimes silly--I liked "The Best and the Brightest" despite its flaws. Christopher McDonald,Kate Mulgrew and Jenna Stern all score big as the school board officials/headmistress that need creative persuasion about their potential new student (who, by the way, virtually disappears for the film's second half. Couldn't have something like raising their daughter interfere with the madcap plot). Hardly a classic, but fun enough, this ranked about 3 1/2 stars for me. Anyone who casts Sedaris, a national comic treasure, gets rounded up! KGHarris, 8/11.