The Best and the Brightest

It’s funny how the people who are trying to shove the standardized testing snake oil down our throats send their children to fancy private schools that encourage personal growth rather than rote learning. President Obama sends his children to such a school. Could this be because he knows better than to believe his own nonsense?

I was thinking about this when I went to see the new comedy The Best and the Brightest, directed by Michael Shelov, and written by Shelov and Michael Jaeger. Jeff (Neil Patrick Harris) and Samantha (Bonnie Somerville) are a young couple who have just moved to New York from Delaware, along with their five-year-old daughter, Beatrice (Amelia Talbot). Not trusting the public schools in New York, they decide to enroll their daughter in a private school. They hire an agent, Sue Lemon (Amy Sedaris) to help them get their daughter into an elite school. Sue learns that a school run by the snooty headmistress, Katharine Heilmann (Jenna Stern), has one remaining available space. Sue persuades Jeff and Samantha that they should try to impress Heilmann by telling her that Jeff is a poet. Jeff and Samantha leave their daughter with their idle rich friend, Clark (Peter Serafinowicz) while they go to the interview. Their meeting with Heilmann goes well, and the latter seems inclined to admit their daughter. However, in a completely nonsensical scene, Clark appears out of nowhere, and, for no apparent reason, calls Heilmann a “douche”, causing her to reject their application. (This is simply bad writing.) Sue then tells Jeff and Samantha that their only hope now is to persuade the members of the school board that Jeff is an important up-and-coming poet. This leads to a series of increasingly humiliating impostures. At one point, Jeff and Samantha get disgusted with what they are doing and decide to move back to Delaware. It would have made sense if the film had ended with that. Instead, for no clear reason, they change their minds. They eventually resort to blackmailing one of the board members to get their daughter into the school.

So Jeff and Samantha end up completely buying into the rotten values that this film is supposedly satirizing. This wouldn’t be a problem were it not for the fact that we are clearly supposed to sympathize with these two. Indeed, we are supposed to root for them as they degrade themselves. This is not good comedy, and it certainly isn’t good satire.

For the most part, this film just is not funny. The characters are too broadly drawn to be believable for one minute. The actors do the best they can with their one-dimensional roles, although I must say that I found Amy Sedaris extremely annoying. Every time she appears on the screen, it’s almost as if you’re getting punched in the face. The problem is that she never modulates her voice. She delivers every line in the same in-your-face manner.

A woefully misguided film.

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