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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
If an armed assailant pointed a loaded weapon at my head and demanded
that I describe The Best and the Brightest in only two words, I would
have to go with "utterly refreshing."
The new comedy is a studio quality production crafted at the independent level, and perhaps even more delightful is that it offers a much needed alternative to the stale formulas that have characterized the majority of mainstream post-nineties comedy films. It's not that the film won't appeal to mainstream audiences, but that it represents the kind of mature yet lighthearted fun that they don't get the opportunity to enjoy much these days.
The story centers on a young couple, Jeff and Sam (played by Neil Patrick Harris and Bonnie Somerville) who, after inheriting some money courtesy of a dead aunt, relocate their family to upstate New York. It's when the two middle-class parents take on the task of getting their daughter into an elite private kindergarten that things get deliciously wacky. For Sam, breaking through the stonewall of fake smiles and gag-inducing pretentiousness becomes symbolic of her last shot to have her family move up in the world, and the ridiculous lies she must sustain to blend in with the yuppies propel the comedy forward.
Here's the thing: while The Best and the Brightest may not be the perfect film, it's got the perfect measures of all the great comedy ingredients. It's not a one note joke -- it seems that, too often, comedies take one simple idea (drinking, doing drugs, don't have sex with your friends) and stretch it out for two to two and a half insufferable hours. This film actually has a story, and kudos to first time feature film director (and co-writer) Josh Shelov for crafting comedic scenarios which flow naturally from the drama of the story rather than just having the characters sit around talking about how funny they are. The jokes don't need explaining -- probably because they're funny to begin with.
The acting from everyone involved is solid and appropriate for this type of film (there's no third act lull where everyone cries for twenty minutes on the off chance they might snag an Oscar nod). Neil Patrick Harris is essentially the straight man here, but without aloofness or condescension, rather with willingness to support his wife even while reacting to the madness of situations that require him to read his friend's filthy, borderline dehumanizing online sex chats at a school board meeting and pass it off as part of his newest poetry anthology.
Bonnie Somerville does the impossible, makes us care about the former high school cheer-leading captain, who is still very much in the process of falling more deeply in love with her nerdy husband. Watching her suddenly break from her sweet, mom-like demeanor to drop f-bombs on anyone who threatens her family's security was a source of much amusement. And her interactions with the fast-talking school system consultant Sue Lemon (played with goofy zeal by Amy Sedaris) make for some very quotable lines.
The supporting cast does well also. Standouts include Peter Serafinowicz as spoiled man- child Clark who gets drawn into Jeff and Sam's schemes, and the sexually repressed villain played by Jenna Stern, who gets drawn into Clark's shameless sexual escapades. There's also a subplot involving Jeff's ex flame, a mentally unstable actress played by Bridget Regan, who may or may not be trying to win him back by showing off her lovely...feminine assets. Regan's fans will most likely be impressed with her versatility here. She sheds her dignified Seeker persona for an interesting turn as Robin, giving her supporting role depth by not playing Robin as straight up out-of-her-friggin-mind but as someone who just doesn't seem quite right from the neck up. On the outside, Regan looks amazing as usual, and at a pivotal moment when Jeff becomes mesmerized by her beauty while hanging out in a seedy swingers club (you know, the usual), we the audience are right there with him.
The Best and the Brightest succeeds on many levels, not the least of which is that it's not just a senseless stream of nut-shots or poop jokes -- the vulgarity here proves that there is, in fact, an art to vulgarity, and it works. There are times when the jokes slow down a bit, which are noticeable when compared to the majority of the fast-talking, laugh-out-loud scenes in the film, but even when the pacing winds down here and there, there's the engaging story and likable characters to keep us eager for the next big moment (a vital factor missing in most film comedies of late). I often found myself postponing laughs because I was so wrapped up in whether the heroes would be foiled in their outrageous quest.
From a technical standpoint, the movie looks clean and polished, with good sound mixing so the audience doesn't miss any of the often hilarious banter. The perfectly punctuated finale had me cracking up for a good ninety seconds. And anyone who's ever edited video knows how long a time ninety seconds really is. Catch one of the upcoming screenings of the film, or get it on DVD, then put the kids to bed (or your drunken roommates) and enjoy some real intelligent, adult comedy with no sickening side effects.