Post Grad Dir. Vicky Jenson

[Fox Searchlight; 2009]

It would be unfair to say Post Grad is all bad. But that's only because it would be a gross understatement. The film deserves a firm and repeated drubbing for devouring a potentially interesting subject, realizing its own shortcomings halfway through digestion, and having the impudence to pass the final product onto the Gilmore Girls fan club as a hold-me-over until someone fleshes out the TV series on the big screen.

The story opens with a thrilling shot of Ryden Malby’s (Alexi Bledel of the aforementioned Gilmore Girls) MySpace page. It is Ryden's graduation day from XYZ University, and her talking head introduces family and friends via linked profiles and streaming video. The lineup includes our favorite cast of paycheck actors: Michael Keaton plays the lovable and overambitious dad-next-door and the son of Carol Burnett, whose character prop is a cumbersome oxygen tank. Ryden tips her graduation hat, disappears, and is quickly replaced by titles that cleverly crash into one another.

After tripping through various plot holes, crashing a car, and losing her dream job at a publishing house to her brazen arch-nemesis, Malby returns home to learn the facts of life. Here she has to put up with her family's wacky but admirable antics and admit to her peers that she is, of all things, unemployed! Malby spends a fraction of her time in montage, scribbling out ads and reciting interview questions in the mirror, all the while refusing her father's various start-up suggestions and financial support. Her downtime is split between Adam (Zach Gilford), a 12-string guitar playing bro type who is curiously unflawed (background check, please?), whose leg massages and Eskimo pies Ryden repeatedly turns down; and David, the "Rico Suave" character, a soccer-juggling infomercial director played by Rodrigo Santoro.

A subplot involving Ryden's brother develops and neatly resolves, her nemesis is fired, and our heroine replaces her -- but not before Ryden goes for the wrong guy. David manages to remove himself from the plot entirely, assuming the role of Ryden's sage and confidant before slipping off to South America and leaving Adam with a few superficial reservations. Ryden is ultimately faced with one inevitable question: to live for love or for her career. Of course, any rational human might at least spend some time weighing options, but on her father's advice, Ryden flies to New York to live out her dreams with Adam and wait for the grace period on her private loan to expire.

First-time director Vicky Jenson and first-time feature screenwriter Kelly Fremon collaborate and, unfortunately, make some major mistakes as newcomers to their craft. Jenson shows a total lack of understanding for camera direction. Coverage seems limited, and the actors are often left in sparse, wide shots, trying to busy themselves with what’s at hand (see the family wait while Michael Keaton buries the neighbor's cat). As viewers, we unsuccessfully search the screen for a hint of what we're supposed to be looking at. Even the actors seemed confused by the material. Often, what may have read, on the screenplay page, as comical confusion just comes across as awkward. Bledel is left to fill in the gaps, bouncing on her feet and smirking goofily. Even the few moments of improvisation -- a conversation about knocking on doors, the much-feared Sex Talk -- feel strained and distract from the overall storyline. But the script itself is also at fault, relying on gimmickry, swinging from one conveniently placed plot point to the next, trading content for cheap visual curiosities (ice cream trucks, inflatable couches, a pink casket and ceramic lawn gnomes).

The cumulative result is almost as aggravating as each character's naïveté. Leaving the theater, Ryden's hyper-inflated ambition and queasy sense of entitlement left me feeling guilty. Am I that job seeker? How did I spend my time today? Where was that Bolex when I walked in for my eight o'clock interview at Wells Fargo last week? Rather than commiserating, I, as a real-time montage-less, unemployed fellow, felt repulsed and empty. That night, I wrote my own alternate ending to Post-Grad that put Ryden on par with the rest of our jobless and hopeless public (and, okay, to work out some of my own rage at the film):

CUT TO: RYDEN MALBY finds ADAM in his dorm room getting head from his RA, gasps, and runs away. He races after her to explain.

CUT TO TITLE: FIVE YEARS LATER: RYDEN opens mail to find that her loan is in default.

CUT TO: Malby residence. Realtor posts a sign reading: FORECLOSURE.

CUT TO: a senile CAROL BURNETT yelling at the television, which screens re-runs of her long forgotten variety show.


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