the-best-and-the-brightest-movie-poster-2010-1020698995Is this film available for rent on Netflix Instant and/or through the iTunes Store? The Best and the Brightest is available for rent through both Netflix Instant and the iTunes Store.

Starring: Neil Patrick Harris, Bonnie Somerville, Christopher McDonald, Amy Sedaris, Kate Mulgrew, Peter Serafinowicz, Jenna Stern, & Bridget Regan

Directed by: Josh Shelov

Screenplay by: Josh Shelov & Michael Jaeger

It may have been the fact that when I came with my family to this country back in 1979, my parents were unaware of the existence of private pre-schools and kindergartens and so I grew up being totally unaware of them as well. It was not until I saw the film Baby Boom that I was introduced to the concept of wealthy parents fighting to put their infants into exclusive, high-priced schools. To this day, I remain at a complete loss as to how these schools contribute to the intellectual development of children and how they will lead those children to later get into an Ivy League university. After all, isn’t that the ultimate goal of giving your child a private school education? To ensure that he/she has a better chance of getting into a great university? How private infant schools are supposed to help parents achieve this goal is beyond me.

The Best and the Brightest is about this peculiar phenomenon (which in the land of movies seems to only occur in New York City). Jeff (Neil Patrick Harris) and Samantha (Bonnie Somerville) are a nice, sweet young couple from Delaware who have a nice, sweet, 5-year old girl named Beatrice (Amelia Talbot). Jeff and Samantha have decided to move to New York City for the sole purpose of getting their daughter into an elite prep school. Easier said than done. To her dismay, Samantha discovers that the only way to get your child into one of these schools is to basically enroll her before she is even born. Desperate, Samantha and Jeff hire Sue Lemon (Amy Sedaris), a consultant who specializes in helping parents enroll their children into these schools. Lemon finds out that one of the schools has just opened a spot for 1 student so she, Samantha, and Jeff set about on a wild and very raunchy plot to convince the bitchy head of the school (Katharine Heilmann) and members of the school’s board (Christopher McDonald and Kate Mulgrew) to admit Beatrice.

The Best and the Brightest deserves two separate grades. One for story and the other for dialogue. Beginning with the story, it may be unfair to ding a film because it has a story that you cannot personally relate to. After all, the vast majority of films that we see and enjoy have plots that have zero connection to our personal experiences. Then again, in a society where the gap between the rich and the poor is highly attenuated and made more noticeable by our media, a story about a couple trying to get their child into a prep school for rich kids is not just unrelatable, it is obnoxious. Aside from that, the story presents us with an implausible situation. Jeff and Samantha are clearly not wealthy. They move into a windowless and cramped basement apartment and although we never see Jeff and Samantha at work, we know Jeff is some sort of software coder whose salary is presumably average. We also discover that the average tuition at these prep schools is $30,000 a year and I doubt they offer financial aid. The film never discusses how the couple plans to pay for their daughter’s tuition. Perhaps the screenwriters felt that their targeted audience would either never think about this dilemma or the audience would be so bowled over by the film’s humor that there wouldn’t be time to think about this massive plot hole. To sum it up, the story felt to me to be something that was written by amateur screenwriters whose script would normally never see the light of day, but because they may have had some Hollywood connections (connections that enabled them to cast the likes of Neil Patrick Harris, Amy Sedaris, Kate Mulgrew, and Christopher McDonald), they were able to hook themselves up with funding and a distribution deal.

As bad as the story is, the dialogue is a revelation and the only reason I would recommend this film. The Best and the Brightest is credited as having been written by two people and that makes me seriously wonder if one was solely responsible for the story while the other handled the dialogue. The discrepancy in quality between the two is that stark. If you like your humor to be crude, dark, and sarcastic like I do, I guarantee you will not be disappointed with this film’s sharp wordplay. The humor in the film will offput many, especially to those who are sensitive to racial stereotypes and raunchy, sexist, juvenile humor. The film has much of this, especially when we hit the halfway point of the movie when we are introduced to Christopher McDonald’s character, a wealthy, philandering womanizer whose marriage to Kate Mulgrew’s character barely remains intact out of convenience.

This leads me to the characters. Ironically, the least interesting characters in the film are the two main ones played by Neil Patrick Harris and Bonnie Somerville. Harris seems to have been cast simply to lend his name to the credits and draw in investors (which it seems to have done) and audiences (which did not). Do not be expecting to see the wild Neil Patrick Harris that you saw in the Harold & Kumar movies. Instead, expect a more subdued, quieter version of his Doogie Howser character. Harris barely has any lines and he spends most of his screen time looking surprised by the actions and words coming out of everyone else’s mouths. Bonnie Somerville as Samantha has more to do, but her character isn’t funny or interesting. She is just a mom who is determined to get her child into a prep school.

The film’s title seems to actually be referring to the rest of the cast. Besides the wonderful, albeit typecast, Christopher McDonald, the movie also benefits from the shockingly vulgar and hilarious performance by Kate Mulgrew, who you scifi nerds better know as Captain Kathryn Janeway from Star Trek: Voyager. None of her famous character’s graceful and honorable traits are present in her character here. Instead, you will see a woman just as vulgar and vile as McDonald’s character. My other favorite character in this film is Peter Serafinowicz, who plays Neil Patrick Harris’ bachelor friend who still lives in his absent parents’ palatial NYC residence. You may not have heard of Peter Serafinowicz, but you certainly know his work. An English actor, comedian, and voice artist, he is best known in the U.S. for voicing Darth Maul in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. He has been in numerous films and TV shows, mostly forgettable. His character here is the spoiled, immature man who doesn’t understand the concept of responsibility. Every scene that features Serafinowicz is comic gold (especially watch for the scene in which one of his “girlfriends” shows up unannounced at his house in front of a bunch of prep school board members hosted by Jeff and Samantha). Finally we have Amy Sedaris’ Sue Lemon, the consultant hired by Fred and Samantha to help their daughter get into a prep school. I have to say I was a bit disappointed by her character, who is nothing more than a fast-talking, highly caffeinated woman who spouts off mile-a-second sentences and wears gaudy clothing from the 90’s. Quite opposite from the sublime books she writes, Sedaris’ shrill character is simply annoying here.

Based on my descriptions of the characters, you might be picking up a trend here. The Best and the Brightest contains not a single character that is virtuous, honest, or that possesses any sort of moral code. Even our young, naïve couple isn’t so innocent. They are willing to cheat, lie, bribe, and blackmail in order to get their daughter into prep school. At one point, Neil Patrick Harris is even willing to go on a date with an ex-lover to a sex club in order to impress Christopher McDonald’s character. I don’t have a problem with this so long as the humor is funny (which it is) and there is a good story (which there is not). A similar situation presented itself with The Hangover films. Despite none of the characters being likeable, the first film had a great story and it was very funny. The Hangover Part II, however, had a repetitive story and it was not very funny, which made those same unlikeable characters unbearable to watch (read my review of the film here: https://voiceofcinema.wordpress.com/2011/06/02/the-hangover-part-2-2011-grade-d-starring-bradley-cooper-ed-helms-zach-galifianakis-justin-bartha-ken-jeong-jeffrey-tambor-jamie-chung-and-paul-giamatti-directed-by-todd-phillips/).

The Best and the Brightest contains an absurd premise and a weak script that dooms it from the beginning. I was ultimately offended by the fact that the possibility of sending the little girl to a public school was a non-option. Ironically, AFTER she gets her daughter into prep school, Samantha becomes a consultant of her own and advises another couple of sending their child to a public school!

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