'The Binge': Film Review

The Binge Still 1 - Hulu Publicity -H 2020
Courtesy of HULU
Happy recklessness hits the spot these days.

Jeremy Garelick's teen comedy for Hulu offers a druggy riff on 'The Purge.'

Two male standouts from the riotous femme-forward Booksmart take another crack at high-school debauchery in Jeremy Garelick's The Binge, a Hulu teen comedy that seriously raises the stakes on the old "this one big party will make us legends!" routine: In a playful riff on the Purge movies, it imagines an America where there's only one night a year on which booze and drugs are even available — and they're legal for everyone above the age of 18.

Though it doesn't rise to the level of the aforementioned film (how many comedies do?), this is a raucous, happily irresponsible party that should help locked-in, bottled-up Americans release some steam. The only downside to its being released when we need laughs so desperately is that this is just the kind of pic that becomes several times as funny when seen in a packed theater.

An introductory voiceover cheekily explains the premise and implies that, unlike all prohibitions in history, this one actually works. Somehow, drugs and alcohol are completely unavailable for 364 days a year, then everywhere you look on that one blessed holiday.

As you'd expect, people tend to go overboard. On the morning of the Binge, American High School principal Mr. Carlsen (Vince Vaughn) gives an impassioned "don't binge" lecture at a student assembly, telling horror stories of people who had disfiguring accidents while indulging. (Based on the consumption levels we see later, a more likely but less amusing scenario is that huge numbers of people would simply drop dead.) Naturally, Carlsen expects that his daughter Lena (Grace Van Dien) will be keeping her body drug-free tonight, and hopes her classmates follow suit.

Skyler Gisondo and Dexter Darden play Griffin and Hags, nice boys who've seemingly never been in trouble. The most dangerous thing Griff wants to do is admit his love and ask Lena to the prom, but Hags has been seduced by Binge lore: Some unexplained but grueling ritual called The Gauntlet is part of the annual festivities, and Hags wants them to enter and win. When he learns that Lena will be there, Griff has to agree at least to attend.

The boys realize they'll need to team up with a classmate who frightens them: They consider anything-goes Andrew (Eduardo Franco, Gisondo's Booksmart costar) a magnet for strange trouble, and that's before they know he has a gangster brother named Seb (Esteban Benito). Getting tickets to the party proves to be just the first of many slapstick-violent, humiliating obstacles they'll encounter. A gauntlet before The Gauntlet, if you will — and the guys don't even know that Principal Carlsen is currently scouring the city in pursuit of them, believing Griff is about to deflower his daughter.

Vaughn's part seems tailored for the prickly actor, exploiting his ability to make overfamiliar intimacy both chummy and threatening. The teen roles are much more generic, with the exception of Andrew, but the actors bring enough personality of their own to the screen. So the comedy mostly comes from antic plotting and an approach to gags that's as sloppy as the inebriated action: Some land hard, some don't; some scenes have a faint glaze of true absurdity, though we're never made to feel quite as zonked as our heroes.

Really, none of these first-time hedonists should be standing by the third act, when Jordan VanDina's script all but tumbles into the gutter for your amusement: The contest we've been waiting for makes no sense at all, and dares you to object; its emcees come within an inch of the fourth wall as they mock the proceedings. But incoherence is no obstacle to emotional resolution, given the straightforwardness of Griff's mission. Here's hoping he can make his declaration to Lena without barfing all over her.

Production company: LD Entertainment
Distributor: Hulu
Cast: Skyler Gisondo, Dexter Darden, Eduardo Franco, Vince Vaughn, Grace Van Dien, Zainne Saleh
Director: Jeremy Garelick
Screenwriter: Jordan VanDina
Producers: Ryan Bennett, Mickey Liddell, Will Phelps, Michael Schade, Pete Shilaimon, Nicole Stojkovich
Executive producers: Chris Bongirne, Michael Glassman
Director of photography: Andrew Huebscher
Production designer: Kathrin Eder
Costume designer: Samantha Hawkins
Editors: Waldemar Centeno, Ian Kezsbom
Composer: Matt Bowen
Casting director: Amey Rene

98 minutes