HAIRBRAINED (director/writer: Billy Kent; screenwriters: Sarah Bird/Adam Wierzbianski; cinematographer: Charles Libin; editor: Paul Bertino; music: The Newton Brothers; cast: Brendan Fraser (Leo Searly), Parker Posey (Sheila Pettifog), Alex Wolff (Eli Pettifog), Teddy Bergman (Alan), Greta Lee (Gertrude), Michael Oberholtzer (Laird), Julie Garner (Shauna), Fred Melamed (Bennie), Robin De Jesus (Romeo), Elizabeth Hower (Eve), Austin Pendleton (Dapper Man), Colman Domingo (Finalist moderator), Lizzy DeClement (Sophie), Josefina Scaglione (Camilla), Toby Huss (Whittman moderator); Runtime: 90; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producer: Avram Ludwig/Billy Kent/Sarah Bird; Love Lane Pictures/Premiere Entertainment; 2013)
“Too bad that the film’s funniest personalities, Parker Posey and Fred Melamed, have the smallest parts.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Commercial director Billy Kent(“The Oh in Ohio”) gives us a laugh or two in this disposable lighthearted coming-of-age comedy romp about mismatched buddies in college, before it crashes with a ludicrous ending that turns mawkishly serious and awkwardly takes on a populist bent to inanely put down elite colleges while at the same time kissing their asses. It’s one of those semi-likable films that should find a home on cable TV, despite being so poorly written as fluff. Kent co-writes the script with Sarah Bird and Adam Wierzbianski, and to their detriment lose their comedy edge when they take things too far with familiar chestnuts such as the mismatched buddies act and underdog sports team bit looking for respect. It’s also too bad that the film’s funniest personalities, Parker Posey and Fred Melamed, have the smallest parts.
The sullen 13-year-old, soon to be a sullen 14-year-old, the shaggy-headed genius outcast, Eli Pettifog (Alex Wolff), is accepted into the mediocre Whittman College in upstate N.Y. and is crushed that his dream school Harvard rejected him. Living in Eli’s freshman dorm is the middle-aged divocee degenerate Leo Searly (Brendan Fraser), a goofball loser gambler/drunk who uses the college as a rest-stop to get back his nerve before hopefully returning to the adult world. The odd pair team up, and Leo drives the van to the tournaments, as Eli joins the perennial losing Collegiate Mastermind Team. They compete against other colleges in quiz show games, and the kid hopes to get revenge against Harvard by beating them by answering more trivia questions than all the elite colleges he faces.
The film’s idea of college is jocks bullying nerds, beer guzzling parties, Ivy-League students acting as entitled smarty-pants jerks and hot coeds on the prowl for action. Things meanders along in a ludicrous way, somehow getting comedy from the amusing unusual trivia questions it digs up and Fraser making funny faces whenever at a loss for words.
Unlike the Parker Posey sexual exploitation of “Oh,” the more universal and genuine phenomena of male bonding is the order of the day in this entertaining junket. Specifically, the uplifting message that no two guys are too weird or alienated to find friendship.
The eccentric in this film is 14-year old genius Eli Pettifog, who spends his teenage days lusting and fantasizing over, yes, you guessed it, Harvard. OK, not exactly what most 14 year old boys lust after, but it will do for a start to an eccentric college flick.
At 14, Pettifog is smarter, or at least knows more ridiculous trivia, than all six of the major staffers serving Martin Sheen in the “West Wing” series. Want to know the weight and age of Mars? The number of feet the Queen Mary goes on a gallon of fuel? The West Wing staffers know it, and so does Pettifog.
Does this fluff substitute for skilled screenwriting? Well, no. But Alex Wolff (as P-Fog) and Brendan Fraser (as nearly middle-aged student /loser/drunk Leo Searly) put out performances that save the day. Or, at least, save this flick from total destruction.
The main plug in the dike for the film is Mr. Fraser. He is at his off-handed, crudely handsome best in this role as the adult fleeing from the adult world back to the (supposed) campus milieu of beer bongs and one-night stands. Pettifog, on the other hand, is fleeing from childhood into an imagined adult world of noble intelligence, honor, glory and the command of all knowable trivia in the hallowed halls of America’s Ivy League colleges. Boy, is he in for a surprise. As he learns the hard way that Ivy League habitués are no better, or worse, than anyone else, he finds the value of true friendship with the misbegotten sot, Searly.
In the end, both Eli and Leo learn that it is best to be who you are and not waste your life living a fantasy.
When 14 year old Eli is rejected from Harvard, he is devastated, and chooses loser binge drinking Whittman College instead. Was there nothing in between? Maybe Michigan State, or something? There are a few things one has to forgive, in order to cough up a laugh during this film, and that is one of them. Bullied from one end of the campus to the other, Eli joins Whittman’s pathetic Collegiate Mastermind Team and shows the world what a trivia master can really do. Answering all of the questions himself, he unknowingly threatens Leo’s life over a few bad bets that the unreformed gambling addict has unwisely placed.
There follows romance, adventure, beer chugging, vomiting and all the rest that made our college system what it is today. Just as fictional Whittman (not to be confused with world class Washington State’s Whitman) plays second fiddle to the Ivy League, this film plays second fiddle to school buddy dramedy “Rushmore” featuring Jason Schwartzman and Bill Murray, and distant third fiddle to generation gap / eccentric soul classic “Harold and Maude” with Ruth Gordon and Bud Cort.
Nonetheless, this is an admirable effort by Billy Kent and co-writers Sarah Bird and Adam Wierzbianski. One hopes it will pave the way to bigger and better things.
A forgettable performance by Parker Posey, reunited with Kent after her starring role in the forgettable “Oh in Ohio,” who appears for a bit at the beginning and end of the film. Those of us who love her really wish she would get a meaningful role in something.
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Directed by: Billy Kent Written by: Sarah Bird, Billy Kent and Adam Wierzbianski (screenplay) Starring: Alex Wolff, Brendan Fraser and Julia Garner Release Date: None yet, screened at Brooklyn film Festival, June, 2013 MPAA: not rated Run Time: 93 minutes Country: USA Language: English Color: Color
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REVIEWED ON 2/1/2014 GRADE: C+
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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