2006Director: Steve Pink
Cast: Justin Long, Jonah Hill, Lewis Black
n the sugar-coated world of Accepted, only colleges listed on U.S. News and World Report’s Top 100 hold any bearing to high-school grads. And so when the unfortunately named Bartleby Gaines (Justin Long) receives his seventh and final rejection letter from Ohio State, his last-ditch back-up school, his future prospects suddenly look pretty grim. Never mind that a moderately upscale Ohio suburb like the one where he resides would almost certainly have a local community college. With that letter, his future is forever destroyed.
Bartleby isn’t fazed. Over dinner, he points out to his parents the fiscal irresponsibility of going to college, arguing that he could pull in $20,000 a year at a job rather than them spending it on school. No dice, so he turns to plan B: He makes up his own school altogether, and shortly thereafter the South Harmon Institute of Technology (S.H.I.T.) is born, touted as a sister school of the prestigious Harmon College. With the help of his best friend (Jonah Hill), a website emerges and a local campus (a former mental asylum no less) is soon in tow. Everything goes according to the movie’s happily nonsensical plan, including a worrisome meeting between a fake dean (Lewis Black, in it for the money) and Bartleby’s parents, but then a small problem pops up—the website promised one-click admission, and some 300 other rejectees who happened upon it want into the institute, too.
Whoops. Of course, as our hero, Bartleby has an undying reserve of resourcefulness and manages to assign every student a dorm room, a passion project of his or her choice and never-ending beer on tap. This may not sound especially divergent from the typical college experience, but in the world according to Accepted, any authority (or traditionally organized institution for that matter) is the root of all evil. It’s a curious stance for the film’s numerous screenwriters to take, particularly since the precision with which they construct their script based on classic formulas suggests they’ve had some higher ed of their own.
All the usual stops are here—the WASP-y frat president, the unsuspecting bombshell, the stiff-necked dean—but with Bartleby, the filmmakers go for something at least faintly novel, constructing him into a would-be underdog hero who just happens to be smart, good looking and, well, not much of an underdog at all. Long, who has made a name for himself in the genre with Dodgeball and the late TV series Ed and stars here in his first bona fide lead role, exudes the classic, hapless charm of such a tortured hero eagerly, but most of the time he’s too cocksure to get the proper effect. His off-color confidence is on conspicuous display in a scene where he chides his frat-president detractor for being the scion of a white-supremacist legacy (he inevitably goes on to congratulate him uncomfortably on his “lifestyle choice” of living with all men, but what’re you going to do?). Long has become best known as one of the leading commercial peddlers of iMacs, a title he can’t possibly cherish (anybody seen the “Dude, I’m getting a Dell” guy lately?), but here he takes his natural liability to an unnecessary extreme. Bartleby is not quite the kind of guy you can pity, and not quite the kind of guy you can idolize, so where does that leave us?
After a breezy midsection, the film swerves toward a decidedly labored climax, with a final confrontation in front of an accreditation committee made up of the same old stooges it seems to think populate all of academia (two guesses who comes out on top). To be fair, the movie mostly has its head in the right place, and its cheerfully carefree spirit is hard to set aside completely. It is not, in fact, grievous that a university would infringe on every student’s god-given right to skateboard shit-faced off of a precipitous ramp (or is it?), but Accepted does have some boilerplate wisdom to dispense, and its giggly target audience of preteens will likely appreciate it just the same.
Accepted is playing in theaters across the country.