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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

BART GOT A ROOM -- DVD review by porfle

Remember your senior prom? Not me--I didn't go to mine. Which makes me even more of a loser than Danny Stein, the main character of BART GOT A ROOM (2008). Worse than that, it makes me even more of a loser than Bart, the biggest loser in all of Hollywood Hills High and the guy against whom everyone else measures their own levels of loserdom. The fact that Bart has secured both a prom date and a hotel room and Danny hasn't provides the story's driving force and most of its exquisitely dry humor.

The setting is Hollywood, Florida, which means that this movie is filled with old people. They're all over the place--Danny seems surrounded by old geezers, forever subjected to their bemused reactions to his youthful social melodramas and constant meddling in same. His usual reaction to all this is a deadpan resignation which actor Steven Kaplan pulls off beautifully. Kaplan doesn't mug for laughs or spaz out like Jerry Lewis, or even whine neurotically like Woody Allen. He's funny because extreme adversity seems to overwhelm him with a sense of paralyzed mortification even though we can sense the frantic turmoil raging behind that stoic demeanor.

Danny's attempts to secure a date are marvelously doomed. In one of the best scenes, he's sitting in an ice cream shop with the sexy sophomore cheerleader whom he drives to and from school every day. In his mind, her slow, deliberate licking of her cone is a come-on, but when he mentions this, she's stricken with a quiet, incredulous disgust. "How do you eat your ice cream?" she asks before storming out of his life. Another scene in which he misses out on a blind date with the absolute hottest babe in town because his platonic childhood friend Camille (Alia Shawkat) shows up at just the wrong time is a grueling exercise in frustration that had me trembling in sympathetic agony.

Brandon Hardesty plays Danny's disaffected rich friend Craig, who dispenses worldly-sounding romantic advice while floating like a bloated corpse around his swimming pool. It's all worthless, but Danny doesn't find this out until it's too late, and even his standby last-resort date, Camille, has given up on him and accepted an invitation from someone else. We know, of course, that sweet, long-suffering Camille, who has always loved him, is the perfect choice but we also know, of course, that Danny will remain absolutely unaware of this until...well, you know. It's the inevitable way that this story is going to end, and knowing this doesn't take anything away from it. Heck, we're supposed to know it. Till then, though, Danny's impending prom nightmare keeps getting ever closer as his desperation mounts and everything starts going wrong.

His divorced parents, Beth (Cheryl Hines) and Ernie (William H. Macy), try to help but they have problems of their own. Beth fears for her future financial security and has just about settled on a new beau, Bob, played by the great Jon Polito with all the rumpled, hangdog smarm he can muster. The wonderfully talented Cheryl Hines is just too hot to be playing somebody's mom, which I find distracting. Whenever she and Kaplan are together I keep having student-teacher fantasies or casting them as Mrs. Robinson and Ben in a mental remake of THE GRADUATE. Still, she's pitch-perfect in this role.

As Danny's down-on-his-luck dad Ernie, afro-bewigged William H. Macy is a delight. Reluctant new-bachelor Ernie takes an active interest in helping Danny through his romantic troubles while barely able to keep his own dates from excusing themselves during dinner and then fleeing in horror. His singleminded efforts to secure Danny a last-second prom date are hilarious, although the scene with him and Jennifer Tilly may give you a huge case of that sympathetic agony I was talking about.

The DVD is 1.85:1/16 x 9 with Dolby Surround 5.1 and English and Spanish subtitles. Included are trailers for this and other Anchor Bay releases, and a pop-up text commentary track that's so much fun it's worth rewatching the movie immediately. Another reason for doing so is to fully appreciate the diverse soundtrack which is a pleasingly eclectic mix of modern music, big band, jazz, and other styles.

A South Florida native himself, director Brian Hecker based most of this stuff on his own experiences and it shows in his witty, perceptive script and breezily inventive direction. This isn't your usual screwball, gross-out, PORKY'S-style teen T & A farce in any way, shape, or form. It's smart without really trying to be, heartfelt and moving in ways that aren't always obvious, and ultimately quite joyous. I don't think I actually laughed out loud a single time during BART GOT A ROOM, yet I found it to be one of the funniest and most enjoyable laugh-on-the-inside comedies I've seen in years. It almost makes me wish I'd had similar prom disaster experiences to look back on with retrospective amusement. Almost.

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