The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Not Cool

The premise of the Starz channel reality series The Chair is darn near irresistible for movie fans. Two different filmmakers are given the exact same script and charged with making a feature-length film from it. They can rewrite the screenplay, but they can't alter the basic story. (Viewers will decide who takes home the $250,000 prize.) It's a fascinating experiment to see how different artistic sensibilities translate the same material. One of the contestants, Anna Martemucci, made Hollidaysburg, an artsy, professional-looking, but ultimately conventional coming-of-age tale. The other, Shane Dawson, made Not Cool, an unabashedly politically-incorrect lowbrow comedy. Both filmmakers show some talent, and both movies are flawed. That said, my vote, somewhat to my surprise, goes to Dawson.

The director – who is also a YouTube star with a thriving channel – stars in the film as Scott, a former high school “cool guy” who returns home from freshman year at college for Thanksgiving break. He promptly gets dumped by his girlfriend, and then is hit by a car driven by former classmate Tori (Cherami Leigh). They begin a tenuous relationship that hits a number of snags, not the least of which is that Tori has become a major pessimist who no longer accepts Scott's self-enchantment. Meanwhile, Scott's good friend Joel (Drew Monson) comes home and attempts to finally get into the pants of his longtime crush Janie (Michelle Veintimilla), who is still in high school. Life lessons are learned by all.

On his YouTube channel, Dawson specializes in outrageous humor, and Not Cool follows the same trajectory. Within the first five minutes, someone vomits in one character's face, while somebody else receives oral sex through a “glory hole” in a bathroom stall. There are jokes about rape, flatulence, and eating one's own feces. That's just for starters. Dawson's core audience is teenagers, especially girls. He plays different characters, usually to exaggeration. In many respects, Not Cool is simply an extension of this approach. It's filled with incredibly broad caricatures, and the supporting cast members are instructed to essentially overact, or at least to act in the biggest, most grotesque manner possible. The problem with this, and with the film as a whole, is that playing the broadness and gross humor at that pitch is fine for a ten-minute YouTube video; doing so for ninety minutes becomes a bit tiresome. If he wants to make it as a feature filmmaker, Dawson will be well-served to learn how to pull those impulses back a little bit.

On the other hand, he clearly connects to the story's themes a little better than his competitor did. The second half takes a bit more time to explore issues that many college freshmen face: no longer being the big fish in the little pond (Scott), realizing that you can reinvent yourself but not knowing what you want to be (Tori), the pull of falling back into familiar patterns rather than moving forward (both of them), etc. In the midst of all the gross-out gags and exaggerated stereotypes, there are some genuinely nice, relatable character moments. Dawson and Leigh give good-natured performances that transcend the hit-or-miss comedy.

When all is said and done, Hollidaysburg is the “better” film, but its dogged conventionality made it feel staid. Not Cool has rougher edges and a less polished style. Here's the thing, though: Shane Dawson took risks, delivering something a little more unexpected and unpredictable. Sometimes the movie is funny, other times eye-roll inducing. It's got his singular voice, though. A lot of indie coming-of-age stories feel exactly like Hollidaysburg. Not many feel like Not Cool. Dawson wins by a hair.

( 1/2 out of four)

Not Cool is unrated, but contains pervasive scatological/sexual humor, drug content, brief nudity, and adult language. The running time is 1 hour and 33 minutes.

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