Play time: 1h 33min
Director: Steve Pink
Screenwriters: Adam Cooper, Bill Collage
Starring: Justin Long, Jonah Hill, Blake Lively
Accepted has the ideas and the energy to be a college classic in the vein of Animal House and Old School, but it doesn’t have the comic juice. The film flails around a lot and makes like it’s raucous, but the posturing is hollow, since few of the jokes are clever, funny, or coherent. There is nothing inherently wrong, except that each step of the way the screenplay needed to be kicked up a notch in intelligence and wit.
What makes the experience of watching Accepted almost painful is that star Justin Long is a legitimately funny guy, and when the script actually comes through for him — like when his enterprising Bartleby Gaines tells the film’s villain, an absurdly WASPy and square-jawed frat boy, “enjoy the game show that you host” — Long delivers. The actor is so convincingly bright and quick on his feet that it’s easy to take to his character even when he is smack in the middle of a dead zone. At the same time, there’s the distinct feeling that Long deserves funnier material.
On one level, the plot is a rather vapid fantasy: a bunch of college rejects form their own institution of higher learning — one where any student can study anything he wants however he wants — and what starts as a prank becomes a cause. It’s a silly bit of wish fulfillment, especially since no matter how hard it tries, the film can’t convince us that this is an academically worthwhile endeavor. Its attempts are doing so in the third act are feeble considering the preceding, which depends for its humor on the South Harmon Institute of Technology being a non-stop party.
At the same time, the movie does manage to tap into the growing general dissatisfaction with college — the notion that higher education is turning into a mechanized, hectic, career-obsessed wringer that does little good for brain, soul or body. The best parts of the film involve Bartleby’s investigation of nearby Harmon College, whose Dean (Anthony Heald) is becoming frustrated because the school is not rejecting enough students. A caricature, yes — but an incisive one.
Accepted is also smart about fraternities. I liked the dilemma of Bartleby’s friend Sherman (Jonah Hill), who actually gained admission to the real Harmon University, but is now suffering various indignities to be accepted into a particularly prestigious frat. There’s a nice moment that makes clear the extent of Sherman’s self-deception: these are the happiest days of his life, even if they kill him.
These ideas are there, but the movie doesn’t follow through, and doesn’t explore them with any sort of grace. The film is right on about the problems with modern colleges, but the alternative it proposes isn’t particularly inspiring — or funny. Fraternities aren’t skewered with creativity or even a convincing meanness; the satire is weak, obvious (pledge is forced to dress up like a hot dog and yell “ask me about my weiner” in the middle of campus) and mostly toothless. Lewis Black essentially plays himself in the role of South Harmon’s Dean, but his comedy is robbed of its edge.
Accepted wastes its promise with uninspired execution. The gags are warmed-over, the actors are neutered, and the whole thing is has an almost aggressive mediocrity. It’s the kind of film that seems like it would have been much better if everyone had simply tried harder. The characters aren’t the only slackers in the picture.