August 17, 2006

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Accepted (PG-13)
When Justin Long gets the lemons of multiple college rejection letters, he makes the lemonade of a fake college where he can spend a semester using his dad’s $10,000 “tuition” money on whatever he pleases in Accepted.

Bartleby Gaines (Long) excels at many things in high school (making fake IDs, staying one step ahead of school officials) but none of the things that will help get you into college. As a result, when graduation comes along, he finds himself with a stack of college rejection letters but no ideas on what to do for the future. He’s surprised to find he’s not alone. Super smartee and Type-A-personality Rory (Maria Thayer) worked her whole life to go to Yale, so much that she didn’t even bother applying elsewhere and is shell-shocked when Yale rejects her. Hands (Columbus Short) is a would-be college football star who injured his knee and winds up with no scholarship and no plan B. And then there’s Sherman (Jonah Hill), another brainy friend of Bartleby’s who is accepted to prestigious Harmon College but finds fitting in more difficult than he expected.

With 75 percent of this group facing a fall semester of empty calendars and angry parents, they decide to create South Harmon Institute of Technology (take a moment to appreciate the acronym) as a stopgap until they find real colleges. A faked acceptance letter, a school Web site and a gussied up mental hospital (painted to look like a campus building) get Bartleby’s parents thinking their son has made it. But then he and his friends discover that the Web site was a little too good and fooled a whole freshman class full of students with no safety schools to sign up for South Harmon.

When the crowds arrive, Bartleby visits nearby Harmon to get a few pointers on how a college works and decides to try to make an academic go of it. Only, instead of the lecture halls full of droning professors and bored students, South Harmon has a DIY approach to schooling where the students create their curriculum.

Though the I of T kids love this approach, the school’s loosey goosey nature, indeed its very existence, has the dean of nearby Harmon (Anthony Heald) and its haughty fraternity-boy student body representative (Kellan Lutz) all hot and bothered in their tailored blazers. The dean wants to demolish the building South Harmon is in to build an entrance toHarmon and the frat brothers want to do a little freak pummeling, especially after Harmon girl Monica (Blake Lively) starts hanging out with Bartleby.

I’m almost reluctant to tell you what I thought of Accepted. Though I try to approach every movie with optimism and no prejudice, well, you see a couple White Chicks and a few You, Me and Duprees and it’s hard not to make assumptions. I went into Accepted expecting some cheap American Pie knock-off that would ultimately leave me feeling cheated out of 90 minutes of my life. Instead, I found a movie that was a bit uneven in parts and a little too comfortable within the confines of the college movie clichés but with surprising moments of smart writing and genuine comedy.

I completely disagree with the “passion is all you need for learning” premise (all the passion in the world is useless unless some professor sits you down and helps you make your passion comprehensible to others). But the movie tempered its silliness with sweetness and, even when it was repeating old saws about frat boys and stuck up deans, it told these old jokes with expert timing and a winning grin.

Even more appealing than the surprisingly light, fresh writing are this film’s actors. Long, Hill, Short and Thayer are all unconventional enough in appearance and manner that they turn their characters into something approaching real people. Even Blake Lively, the requisite pretty girl, played her role differently than, for example, the plasticine girls of John Tucker Must Die.

And yet, I don’t want to oversell you on this movie. Don’t have high hopes, don’t get big expectations. Go in thinking you’ve just paid your $7 for an hour and a half in somebody else’s air conditioning, for 90 minutes in a room with no chores for you to do. Lower the bar enough and you’ll find yourself cheering on Accepted. C+

— Amy Diaz


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