The new “comedy” Post Grad has just opened, and unhhhh…
Sorry…almost dozed off there, a degenerative side effect from watching this movie. It seems almost impossible that with such notable successes under the belt of director Vicky Jenson (Shrek, Shark Tale), and having assembled such a talented cast as Alexis Bledel (Gilmore Girls, Sin City), Michael Keaton (Cars, Jackie Brown), J.K. Simmons (I Love You, Man, Â the upcoming Jennifer’s Body) and Carol Burnett (Annie, Friendly Fire), that a movie so typical, bland, sluggish and almost sleep-inducing could ever be crafted.
Yet here we are, with Post Grad.
Written by Kelly Fremon (only prior credit: the short film Streak), Post Grad follows one Ryden Malby (Bledel) as she jumps fresh out of college and into the job market, having followed her lifelong plan of doing well in school, staying healthy, and dutifully pursuing her major in English Literature, so that she can land a coveted job at a major publishing firm. However, the job is usurped by her college rival and school valedictorian Jessica (Catherine Reitman, daughter of famed Ghostbusters director Ivan). Surprised to find the rug snatched out from under her, and with no other plan in store (she never even tries to get a job at another publishing firm for some reason, throughout the entire film), Ryden suddenly finds herself unable to secure the apartment she wanted to rent, her car wrecked in an accident, and now forced to move back in with her parents, Walter (Keaton) and Carmella (Jane Lynch). In addition to having to deal with her semi-unstable dad, who hops from one get-rich-quick scheme to the next like Ralph Kramden, there is also her slightly loopy younger brother Hunter (Bobby Coleman) who likes to lick people, and the imperious grandma Maureen (Burnett), who seems to look upon her own family with contempt. In the meantime, Ryden begins falling for the Brazilian lothario across the street (Rodrigo Santoro), while remaining blissfully unaware of the feelings her best (and seemingly only) friend Adam (Zach Gilford) has developed for her.
I went into Post Grad wanting to like this film, partly because I have enjoyed members of the cast—particularly Keaton and Burnett—in other parts before. Especially Burnett, who, I might add, created one of the all-time genius comedic shows in the entire history of television, her eponymous Carol Burnett Show. Yet Fremon’s script is like a Frankenstein creation, its ideas cobbled together from other films, such as a scene where Grandma Maureen tries out various coffins for size, directly lifted from Tim Burton’s Ed Wood. The character of Hunter with his eccentricities and his parents’ behavior towards him, attempts to be reminiscent of 1989’s far superior Steve Martin vehicle Parenthood.
Unfortunately, this Frankenstein’s monster, with its groan-inducing predictability from beginning to end (Will Ryden come to realize that Adam is the right guy for her after all? Will the family pull together in time to build a soapbox racecar for Hunter? Will Ryden inexplicably be the one person in a million able to find a job in a time when the jobless rate in America is sky high?) is a lifeless creation, sitting motionlessly on Dr. Jenson’s table, due to her desire to paint-by-numbers strictly within the lines, and take no risks of any kind whatsoever to turn this typical archetype on its ear.
It’s no secret that there is a notable dearth of female directors in cinema. As is well known, sexism—both overt and covert—plays some part in this. Unfortunately, the overrated female directors that do find work—such as Penny Marshall and Nora Ephron—while usually able to attract audiences, do so by giving into formula and playing it safe. This is NOT a good thing, as it may influence other women who want to direct to figure that the only way they can legitimately get into the field is to deliver formulaic tripe that may eventually allow them to work their way up from the Lifetime Channel. It may indeed seem sexist to compare such women to male directors like Quentin Tarantino…but the fact of the matter is, directors such as Tarantino succeed by not playing it safe, and by attempting to push the cinematic envelope to its limits. Agree or not, it’s undeniable that Pulp Fiction was 15 damn years ago, yet people are still talking about going to McDonald’s and getting a Royale with Cheese, and embroidering their wallets with “Bad Motherfucker.”
In order to get noticed, women directors need to NOT play it safe! Hollywood needs more women who will fight tooth-and-nail to direct the next Star Wars, District 9, Heat or Se7en, and do so without a net! Spike Lee may be a dick in real life, but he didn’t get to where he is by taking the easy route. Love him or hate him, you have to respect his accomplishments. Projects such as Post Grad, with “safe” directors like Vicky Jenson, are a danger to the future women will have in film.
Contrast Marshall, Ephron and now Jenson with a stronger female director like Mira Nair, who prefers to tell stories which matter. Regardless of how successful or not her works may be, she dives into projects which don’t conform to standards, such as Kama Sutra: A Tale of Love and Mississippi Masala. And when a director such as Jenson isn’t competent enough to pull off the story she wants to tell to any satisfying degree, unfortunately it affects the actors’ performances. Carol Burnett’s line delivery is legendary, yet in Post Grad, even she can’t make zingers out of dialogue that could come out of just anyone’s mouth…yours and mine included. Zach Gilford (Rise, Friday Night Lights) is a decent enough actor…but the unbearably clichÃ©d lines placed in his mouth by writer Fremon are so painfully difficult to have to say, one can tell that rather than giving in and becoming his character, he is simply reciting his lines. And poor J.K. Simmons is rapidly becoming typecast as “the dad” in films such as this.
Post Grad is a completely unremarkable film in every way. I only laughed twice during its interminable 90 minutes, and I’m fairly certain one of those was a pity laugh. There were two young twentysomething girls in my row—the target demographic of this film—who laughed less than I did. This is a chick flick that even women won’t dig. Trust me, when this weekend’s box office tallies are done, I am rooting for the Basterds to stick it to this Grad.