A 'Post Grad' Failure
James Rocchi, Special to MSN Movies
Movie marketing speaks of "the quadrants," the four-part division of the audience into men and women younger, or older, than 25. Make a movie that appeals to two quadrants, Hollywood wisdom says, you'll make money. Make a movie that appeals to all four, it goes on, you'll make lots of money. And while I resist that kind of broad, blunt thinking, it does always help to ask who a movie is for, and if you can't answer that question simply, it's most often a sign the movie's probably not very good.
"Post Grad," starring Alexis Bledel as a just-out-of-university hopeful named Ryden Malby, plays out so scattered and schizophrenically you have to wonder who, exactly, the intended audience is. The movie breaks away from Ryden's post-college struggles to make it into the "real world" to focus on her family -- aging grandma (Carol Burnett), wacky dad (Michael Keaton), supportive mom (Jane Lynch), and weird brother (Bobby Coleman) -- in long sequences sure to bore the teens and young people there for Bledel. And the movie's look at Bledel's post-graduation panic will probably bore the older audience who might care about the family stuff on the off-chance they stumbled into "Post Grad" because it was hot outside and the theater was air conditioned.
Witten by Kelly Fremon, "Post Grad" makes the double-edged tactical mistakes of not digging deep enough and not providing any surprises. Bledel's Ryden is stressed out and underemployed, sure, but she never gets desperate or crazy or dark enough to make the film funny and unexpected. Early on, we see how Ryden's bestest pal Adam (Zach Gilford) loves Ryden from afar, and we know it's a fairly safe bet that by the end of the film he'll be loving her up close. Director Vicky Jenson can shoot a scene and make a cut, but she doesn't seem to have the slightest bit of understanding that showing us Bledel looking out to the cold, cruel world of life after college through her ice-blue eyes does not automatically make her journey interesting.
Much like "The Ugly Truth" and "The Proposal," "Post Grad" is a film without a single surprise in it, no moment where something interesting or unexpected might happen, and even its surprises are rote and mechanical. Bledel's an appealing enough actress; her years on "Gilmore Girls" made her a poster girl for overcaffeinated, smart teen girls. But watching her mild ups and downs in "Post Grad" is more tedious than engaging.
Someone with a taste for the jugular could have dug into this and made something of it: a cautionary satire about the trickle-down effects of the collapsing economy and the wreckage facing college graduates, a rumination on how little college prepares you for real life, even a look at how hard it is to feel like a grown-up when you're living at mom and dad's house. But instead we get Gilford mooning over Bledel and a sequence where Keaton builds Coleman a soap-box racer while the tragically underused Lynch does nothing.
I laughed perhaps twice in "Post Grad," once early on, when Burnett's character is morbidly shopping for her final resting place and funeral-home owner Craig Robinson ("Pineapple Express," "The Goods") is selling hard with fairly inappropriate enthusiasm: "What do I have to do to put you in one of my coffins today?" The second time was when Demetri Martin's smooth idiot producer tells Bledel's director neighbor (and total hottie) Rodrigo Santoro to liven up the infomercial for a guacamole-making appliance, telling Santoro the footage needs to be " ... more Mexi-can, not Mexi-can't or Mexi-could. ..." That averages out to 45 minutes a joke.
The fact is that "The Devil Wears Prada" did the whole "welcome to the working week" after school journey with snap, a fresh setting and style, none of which "Post Grad" manages. Watching Bledel's family flail toward happiness is the kind of everyday stuff I, and most of us, go to the movies to get away from. And when we do go to the movies for family sagas and teen angst, we expect them to be better made than this jumble of clichés and predetermined outcomes. Bledel and those big blue eyes may have their charms, but "Post Grad" has nothing to offer Bledel, or us, more than a few draggy laps around the track of "situation, complication, resolution" in a fairly low-energy fashion. "Post Grad" is all about what happens after you get your diploma, but the movie itself doesn't even earn an "E" for "effort," let alone make the grade.
James Rocchi's writings on film have appeared at Cinematical.com, Netflix.com, SFGate.com and in Mother Jones magazine. He lives in Los Angeles, where every ending is a twist ending.