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The Halloween-themed feature veers into teen-targeted outrageousness, but mainly occupies the land of family-friendly fare, with an open-minded perspective on family configurations. In his big-screen directing debut, Josh Schwartz (wunderkind creator of The O.C. and co-creator of Chuck and Gossip Girl) doesn’t disdain fart jokes, sex references or boob-centric moments, but the movie is, by and large, smarter than the gross-out tactics that pass for hilarity in many mainstream adult comedies.
If it falls short of My So-Called Life or John Hughes movies, two obvious touchstones, Fun Size finds its sweet-but-not-sappy balance. Though it might underwhelm viewers of several generations, it doesn’t insult them. In an opening weekend that’s pegged for soft box-office returns overall, the wide release is eyeing relatively bite-size business.
Victoria Justice, who toplines the Nick series Victorious, plays Cleveland high school senior Wren, a long-legged lovely whose book smarts supposedly make her a helpless nerd. It’s the bland role at the center of the story’s night of zaniness; the color belongs to those around her, beginning with little brother Albert (Jackson Nicoll), the pudgy and creative troublemaker whose Halloween-night disappearance is the ostensible engine driving the comedy.
Eight-year-old Albert, who heads off on his own adventure early in the trick-or-treating, hasn’t spoken in about a year, the implication being that he’s in a kind of withdrawal after the death of his father. That piece of background information is invoked when it comes in handy, just as the search for Albert is a matter of urgency only when there’s a lull in the teen romance and high jinks.
However fast or slow she conducts her search, Wren gets eager assistance from fellow serious student Roosevelt (Thomas Mann), the guy who appreciates her while she longs for the more amorphous dreamboat Aaron (Thomas McDonell). Latter’s personal, drive-by invitation to his big-event Halloween party is directed at Wren, but she’s less excited about it than her best friend, the charmingly wise-ass April (Jane Levy, of Suburgatory), a precocious girl who’s not about to let her “sexy kitty” costume go to waste. Neither is Peng (Osric Chau), the tastefully horny dork rocking an Aaron Burr powdered wig.
There’s nothing in Max Werner’s screenplay that any self-respecting tween wouldn’t get without pushing the taste envelope, but the funny-sweet material also extends to adults, and not just in its references to Pink Floyd and the Beastie Boys.
Wren and Albert’s mother is sensitively — yes, sensitively — played by Chelsea Handler. She’s a widow whose affair with a 26-year-old stud gets a reality check at his friend’s costume party. And Ana Gasteyer and Kerri Kenney-Silver are spot-on as Roosevelt’s earthy, overachieving moms. Thomas Middleditch is perfectly goofy as the compassionate, not-quite-adult convenience store clerk who connects with Albert when the Spidey-costumed boy stops in for a beverage that would be illegal in New York City. An uncredited Johnny Knoxville shows up, seemingly from another movie, in the role of a ridiculous villain.
Schwartz’s direction can be ungainly, and he doesn’t always find the right tone, but mainly he navigates the story’s affirmations while avoiding schmaltz.
The movie has a flat look, and the Cleveland locations lend it little in the way of character, instead conveying the kind of scrubbed, generic suburbia that could have been played by Vancouver or Los Angeles. Without taking the film out of its middle-class milieu, costume designer Eric Daman makes the most of the license-to-go-wild Halloween setup.
Paramount Pictures and Nickelodeon Movies present
an Anonymous Content/Fake Empire production
Cast: Victoria Justice, Thomas Mann, Jane Levy, Osric Chau, Thomas McDonell, Jackson Nicoll, Chelsea Handler, Johnny Knoxville, Thomas Middleditch, Anna Gasteyer, Kerri Kenney-Silver
Director: Josh Schwartz
Screenwriter: Max Werner
Producers: Stephanie Savage, Josh Schwartz, Bard Dorros, David Kanter
Executive producers: Michael Beugg, Steve Golin, Paul Green
Director of photography: Yaron Orbach
Production designer: Mark White
Music: Deborah Lurie
Co-producer: Lis Rowinski
Costume designer: Eric Daman
Editors: Mike Sale, Wendy Greene Bricmont
MPAA rating: PG-13, 86 minutes
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