'Post Grad' Has Much To Learn
By Dan Kois
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, Aug. 21, 2009
"Post Grad," an uneasy mix of family comedy, 20-something romance and recession horror story, explores the fate of so many of the Class of 2009's fragile graduates, released, useless diplomas in hand, into the harsh economy: no job, no apartment, no hope.
Alexis Bledel plays go-getter Ryden Malby, whose life plan -- get a scholarship, excel in college, land her dream job -- seems on track when she snags an interview at a publishing house. But when she doesn't get the job, she's forced to move back to the suburbs with her oddball family while she searches for the next thing in her life.
Happily for director Vicky Jenson, those oddballs are played by world-class oddballs Michael Keaton, Jane Lynch and Carol Burnett, three actors congenitally unable to play it straight. They do their best to inject life into "Post Grad's" unexceptional comic set pieces, vigorously shaking a few big laughs out of Kelly Fremon's screenplay. But the Malbys never seem like real relatives so much as collections of quirks.
Dad (Keaton) sells contraband belt buckles. Mom (Lynch) coddles her weirdo son (Bobby Coleman), who keeps getting in trouble for licking his classmates. Grandma (Burnett) takes the family coffin-shopping. Aside from a nice scene in which Keaton urges Bledel to deviate from her life plan, reminding her that a little improvisation has led him to a happy ending, few of the family's misadventures serve Ryden's story, instead feeling like desperate attempts to liven up a movie hamstrung by a dull heroine.
Bledel is certainly adequate as the frustrated Ryden, but there's little about her performance to make it stand out in the company of such scene-stealers. Basically, she's playing Rory Gilmore, her longtime character on "Gilmore Girls" -- a smart, insecure kid prone to profound errors in judgment -- only "Post Grad" doesn't give Bledel the fizzy dialogue in which "Gilmore Girls" specialized. So Ryden comes off as a bit of a drip: Fixated on her dream job and the Brazilian hunk next door, she's the kind of girl who knows that her best friend has been deep in unrequited love with her for years but cruelly lets him rub her feet after a hard day of job interviews.
It's that best friend, Adam, who provides the dramatic tension in the movie's second half -- and it's worth noting that Zach Gilford, the young star of "Friday Night Lights" who plays Adam, is appealing, adorable and very funny in the role. In fact, Gilford's so good that he, too, outshines the film's ostensible lead. As you get glimpses of Adam's post-grad life -- his working-class dad (the underused J.K. Simmons) who skips graduation, an unopened letter from Columbia Law, and a wide-open heart devoted to his unworthy best friend -- you might start to wish that "Post Grad" dumped Ryden and followed Adam around instead.
Will Ryden finally get her dream job? Will she finally realize Adam is the guy for her? Will "Post Grad" find a contrived way to make her choose between them? Anyone who doesn't know the answers to these questions has never watched a movie. "Post Grad" boils down, in the end, to the age-old question: Career or life? That "Post Grad" draws a stark line between the two, and forces its heroine into an untenable decision, might be the most disappointing thing about a movie that never quite succeeds in capturing a generation adrift.
Post Grad (89 minutes, at area theaters) is rated PG-13 for sexual situations and brief strong language.