Review of Accepted

Accepted (2006)
Far better than expected
20 August 2006
Warning: Spoilers
On the face of it, any teen comedy runs the risk of being sophomoric and obvious, and fair enough, most of them are. There are a few that have risen above the usual banality of the source material (Bring It On, Eurotrip), and they give me hope that others can join that depressingly rare crowd of teen comedies that are actually funny and not just an excuse to flash some starlet's boobs or be a vehicle for some never-was like Tom Green.

Enter Accepted, directed by John Cusack pal Steve Pink and led by the likable Justin Long (the smart nerdy kid in Galaxy Quest and more recently featured in Apple computer ads), about a bunch of kids who don't get accepted to college and decide, as disclosed in the trailer, to fake a bogus one to get their parents off their backs. When they go a little too far with the website and other kids end up enrolling, the kids have a few problems to solve.

Okay, the set-up is obviously preposterous, but most comedy lives or dies in the execution, and here, Accepted does pretty well. Long's Bartleby Gaines (mostly shortened to 'B') is accompanied by enough well-meaning comically acceptable friends to help him share the load, but probably the best supporting character is 'Dean' Lewis (no doubt named as an homage to Rodney Dangerfield's Dean Martin), aka Uncle Ben, Lewis Black, who is wisely restricted to short spurts where he can rapid fire his unique brand of cranky observational humor. Black is terrific here, frankly telling the kids what life is really like (his expletive-laden final line is hysterical) and providing the adult face to the bogus university for the parents.

But Long has to carry most of the film, and he does so, in spades; Bartleby is easily identified with and we take to him almost immediately. A nice twist was provided by Columbus Short's character Hands, an athlete who loses his scholarship due to an injury and ends up becoming the de facto art faculty at the fake college. Also noteworthy as Bartleby's hyper-intelligent and sarcastic little sister is Hannah Marks.

Yes, the film does feel familiar in some spots; there's a debt here owed, of all places, to Revenge of the Nerds. Those who are rejected by everyone else find a home with Bartleby and his cohorts, and of course the villains are steroid-enhanced conformist Master Race types who run a fraternity (well, okay, frats are evil) and seek to humiliate and bury the oddballs for the – gasp – crime of being different. But that aside, Accepted has fun with the material, and even asks a few decent questions about the expectations on college kids and the course of higher education. Not that it's a brain teaser by any means, but Accepted isn't just another mindless teen comedy (or Owen Wilson vehicle). It's a funny, clever 90 minutes that, while not a great departure from its genre, is intelligent and creative enough to be very enjoyable.

There is at least one moment of unadulterated brilliance in the film, when Bartleby checks out a nearby college in an attempt to harvest ideas for his own school's curriculum. When he sees that the kids are all stressed out at the other school (several refuse to even talk to him during class for fear of missing something), he shakes his head, thinking that there must be a better way. As he moves to leave he is met by a stream of kids going the other way, one person moving against a human tide, while in the background, the opening lines of Eleanor Rigby play. Perhaps an unplanned moment of brilliance, but brilliance none the less.
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