As a film critic, when a film is bad, I often like to attempt to pinpoint the exact flaws that doomed it. Sometimes it’s poor direction, a flimsy plot, crummy dialogue, or perhaps some bad casting (among other possibilities). It can be any number of things that — when projected on a screen — simply do not work because films are such fragile ecosystems, which can be easily thrown out of whack. But on many occasions, before a single scene is shot, a movie can be a hopeless proposition. This is the case with Fun Size, a film — from its script, to its casting, to its direction — that just oozes mediocrity. It’s not so much that Fun Size does a ton of things wrong (though it does). It’s more that it doesn’t have a grasp on how to do very much of anything right. No matter how much effort is put into making a fun, charming teen flick, nothing can overcome a simple lack of creative talent behind the scenes.
Fun Size is really trying to follow the path of so many harmless and often quirky teen movies, stuff like John Hughes’ ‘80s output, Chris Columbus’ Adventures in Babysitting (1987) and Mark Waters’ Mean Girls (2004). This isn’t a genre that lends itself to the loftiest of cinematic goals, but it’s one which can — when done right, of course — obtain a certain amount of quaint appeal. Fun Size can’t, because it’s a film with flat jokes, one-dimensional characters, a charmless cast, ham-fisted pop-culture references and the constant sense that it’s simply crossing items off a list of genre conventions.
The movie is the usual coming of age story, where our heroine Wren (middling Nickelodeon actress Victoria Justice) is just trying adjust not only to the death of her father, but to her upcoming graduation and the alway precarious nature of high school social structures. Because of that last aspect, Wren wants desperately — partly due to peer pressure from her shallow best friend April (TV actress Jane Levy) — to go a Halloween party thrown by the school’s popular guy (Thomas McDonell, Prom). A wrench gets thrown into her plans when she’s unexpectedly forced to babysit her mischievous little brother Albert (Jackson Nicoll, The Fighter) because her mother (Chelsea Handler) wants to go to a party with her much younger boyfriend.
Albert immediately runs off while his sitters are out trick-or-treating, so Wren — with the help of the nebbish nerd Roosevelt (Thomas Mann, Project X), who of course has a crush on her — sets out to track him down. PG-13 hijinks and misadventure occur, none of them very well thought out or funny. The plot hits all the greatest hits — will Wren fall for Roosevelt? Will important lessons about growing up be learned? — but little of it feels emotionally honest or even thought out. While some of it works in small doses (Wren’s mother finally coming to terms with her husband’s death is deftly and nicely handled), much of the film just simply happens — like Wren falling in love with Roosevelt — because it’s supposed to. The genre has commanded it. And because of this, we end up with a movie that will certainly be forgotten as soon as it’s watched.
Rated PG-13 for crude and suggestive material, partying, and language.
Playing at Carolina Asheville Cinema 14, Epic of Hendersonville, Regal Biltmore Grande, United Artists Beaucatcher Cinema 7