The Best and the Brightest: Film Review

The Best and the Brightest Review 2011
High Treason Pictures

The Best and the Brightest Review 2011

Absurd premise and weak script doom this comedy about haute-preschool angst.

Neil Patrick Harris, Bonnie Somerville and Amy Sedaris star in the indie comedy about a couple trying to get their child into the New York private school system.

NEW YORK — A ludicrous and difficult-to-like farce that asks viewers to identify with its protagonist's aspirational cluelessness, Josh Shelov's The Best and the Brightest manages to be simultaneously offensive and bland. Its familiar cast and made-for-TV vibe (cemented by Ted Masur's busy, mood-deaf score) might have made it salable for off-hour television programming, but trimming its pervasive lewdness to basic-cable standards would whittle the film to nothing.

Bonnie Somerville plays Samantha, a onetime cheerleader who moves to New York in a self-pitying effort to feel as special as she did in high school -- and perhaps to goad husband Jeff (Neil Patrick Harris) into finding work more glamorous than computer programming.

In a movie whose knowledge of New York City seems limited to one widely-discussed truism -- it's hell getting kids into private schools -- Samantha has somehow never heard this fact. She blithely walks her kindergarten-age daughter into a string of tony schools, where administrators (and the just-pregnant women already getting in line) laugh her off.

With the help of a nutty school-placement consultant (the full-tilt Amy Sedaris, dressed in a repertoire of exotically frumpy ensembles from one scene to the next) she lands an interview at Coventry Day School -- which is going great until Jeff's buddy (Peter Serafinowicz), a sex addict who's supposed to be babysitting their child, interrupts the meeting with news that makes them look like the world's worst parents.

The increasingly hard-to-swallow action takes a gag that's good for a scene or two at most -- that Jeff has been mistaken for a poet whose work is a kind of debased erotica -- and stretches it to a point where the plot needs us to believe, for instance, that an aspiring politician would invite the recitation of porn at her dignified fundraiser.

Despite a couple of bright points (John Hodgman's pointy-headed appreciation of "poems" that are in fact printouts of late-night sex-texting), the script will annoy even viewers who can stomach its fundamental class-blindness. The idea that Sam's daughter would attend a public school is never broached, and in fact the word "public" isn't even heard until a closing-scene punch line.

Somerville's performance brings no likeability to her shrill character, while Harris wisely chooses detachment.

Opens: Friday, June 24 (PMK*BNC)
Production Companies: High Treason Pictures, Wellfleet Phantasy Productions, Big Indie Pictures
Cast: Neil Patrick Harris, Bonnie Somerville, Amy Sedaris, Peter Serafinowicz, Christopher McDonald, Kate Mulgrew, Jenna Stern, Kelly Coffield Park, Steve Park, Bridget Regan, John Hodgman
Director: Josh Shelov
Screenwriter: Josh Shelov, Michael Jaeger
Producers: Nicholas Simon, Patricia Weiser, Robert Weiser
Executive producer: Richard S. Schiffrin
Director of photography: John Inwood
Production designer: Russell Barnes
Music: Ted Masur
Costume designer: Eden Daniels
Editor: Peter Iannuccilli
Rated R, 93 minutes