THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Accepted unleashes a fierce battle between the brain and the funny bone. At one point in the movie, a character utters an interesting line of dialogue: “This is completely cheesy in the best possible way.” That sentiment pretty much applies to the film itself. Think about it too much and the whole thing falls apart; sit back, relax, and don’t analyze it and the movie is pretty darn entertaining. I could sit here all day picking apart the plot holes, but I chose the non-analysis route while watching Accepted and to deny that I enjoyed myself would be a lie.

Remember the movie Old School, where a bunch of thirty-something guys started their own fraternity? Well, this movie takes things a step further by having the central characters start their own college. Justin Long plays the improbably-named Bartleby Grimes, a high school graduate who has massively disappointed his parents by getting rejected from every college to which he applied. Bartleby is saddened by his folks’ reaction, but he’s also angry that schools have rejected him because he doesn’t fit a mold.

Then he gets a brainstorm. To make his mom and dad happy, he forges an acceptance letter from the fictional South Harmon Institute of Technology (SHIT, for short). He does this only to appease them. His pal Sherman (Jonah Hill) even creates a realistic-looking website for the fake school to make it all seem legit. When the newly-elated Mr. and Mrs. Grimes want to visit the school, Bartleby uses the tuition money his dad gave him to lease an abandoned mental institution. Along with some other friends who also failed to get into college, he renovates the place to make it look like a real school. He even pays Sherman’s drunk uncle Ben (Lewis Black) to pose as the dean.

There is a hitch in the plan. Sherman’s website had a clickable online registration form that guaranteed acceptance. Other kids find it and enroll. They show up en masse on “opening day” thinking that they are attending a real college, albeit one without professors or scheduled classes. Bartleby runs a loose ship, allowing the misfits and rejects to study whatever they want – on their own. This freedom allows many of the kids to discover hidden passions. Meanwhile, Bartleby goes to the real Harmon College, which Sherman attends. He’s appalled by the way the frat brothers ruthlessly haze his friend, and he gets into a confrontation with snooty frat boy Hoyt Ambrose (Travis Van Winkle). Hoyt tips off the real school’s dean (Anthony Heald), who attempts to have the fake school closed down.

If you put Accepted to the logic test, it fails miserably. I suppose I can buy the idea that Bartleby and crew use the tuition money to fix up the building. However, it’s hard to believe that none of the students ever question the complete absence of faculty or a formal curriculum. You might also wonder how so many kids could attend a school that no one has ever heard of. Or how South Harmon could go unnoticed by the surrounding public considering the fact that the students do things like drive motorcycles into the swimming pool. The film actively avoids addressing issues like that. It has its own “don’t ask, don’t tell policy” when it comes to inconsistencies.

It’s tempting to dock the movie points for such sloppiness, especially considering that there’s humor to be mined from really exploring the whole ruse. As much as those things nagged me in the back of my brain, they didn’t detract from the sheer entertainment value of Accepted. The film gleefully plows right over the plot holes, trying to distract you from their existence with a series of clever jokes and scenes.

I laughed a lot at this movie. There’s a running gag involving one of Bartleby’s co-conspirators, who explores his latent talent for creating African-themed sculptures of virile men. Another scene has the easily-frightened Sherman screaming like a little girl when something drops from the rotting ceiling of the mental institution. Jonah Hill is hilarious in this scene and others, displaying a pitch-perfect sense of sarcasm. The performance from Lewis Black is another strength. He brings a manic energy to Ben, who likes to regale students with angry lectures about the failure of the educational system. I could go on and on. What Accepted lacks in logic, it makes up for in humor.

This is the first starring role for Justin Long, a Vince Vaughn protégé who first garnered attention alongside his mentor in Dodgeball and who currently plays the “Mac” in those “Mac vs. PC” commercials. Long is clearly a rising comedy star. He brings charm to the movie, as well as commitment. In his hands, we kind of get Bartleby’s rage against the system, which gives the movie whatever sense of grounding it has. This guy is gonna be big.

You can really see his impact in the finale, where Bartleby and crew face the Ohio accreditation board. Yes, it’s another of those scenes where the hero makes a Big Speech in front of everyone and, despite having broken countless laws, earns the leniency of the System with his passion. (Believe me, I haven’t given away anything you won’t see coming.) It would never go down like this in real life, but Long sells the speech, turning a generic moment into a rallying cry for the higher education system to be more adaptable and accessible to kids with non-traditional aspirations. In a weird way, it’s actually kind of inspiring.

Accepted is not on same level as Old School or Animal House or any of the other movies it aspires to be like. However, it is consistently funny and it has a rebellious spirit that appealed to me. Go in prepared to have a good, not-mentally-taxing time and Accepted may just win you over too.

( out of four)

Accepted is rated PG-13 for language, sexual material and drug content. The running time is 1 hour and 33 minutes.

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