Make the grade and date the girl
By Stephanie Merry
Friday, Apr. 6, 2012
It's not easy to craft a teen comedy capable of teaching its target audience valuable lessons. "We the Party" demonstrates just how difficult that task can be. With the raunch of "American Pie" and the heart of an after-school special, the comedy turns out to be a lot less than the sum of its parts.
The film was written and directed by Mario Van Peebles, who also takes on the role of the movie's Jiminy Cricket; he plays the Prius-driving Dr. Sutton, a high school teacher who preaches knowledge as power. He's especially hard on his teenage son, Hendrix (played by real-life son Mandela Van Peebles), who cares more about saving up to buy a car than academic enlightenment. When he isn't hanging out with his goofball group of friends, he makes money hosting massive parties. But when Hendrix realizes the only way he can date the popular Cheyenne (Simone Battle) is to raise his grades, he starts hitting the books.
Among the many subplots is one cherry-picked from "American Pie." Hendrix and his group of friends make a bet about losing their virginities by prom. Of course, any time this type of agreement coincides with a fledgling love connection, the plot practically spells itself out. Foreshadowing is not the film's strong suit, as in another scene when the camera zooms in on a stack of bills exchanged between the school principal and a teacher, as if to say, "Warning: Plot point ahead."
The teachable moments often come during Dr. Sutton's class, the subject of which appears to be irrelevant. "True success isn't about what you buy," he tells his students, and it's clear that this isn't English or geometry, but a class devoted to life lessons.
Amid these admittedly valuable interludes are images of kids vomiting into punch bowls, girls jumping around in swimsuits and one particularly objectionable scene in which a male student tapes a video camera to his shoe so that he can look up the skirts of his female classmates. Some scenes also make light of homelessness and anaphylactic peanut allergies.
That being said, there are a few bright spots, not the least of which is Van Peebles the younger. He does a solid job as a likable character with good comic timing.
But the enjoyment fades behind the too-numerous subplots - one even involves Snoop Dogg as a menacing thug - and self-conscious bells and whistles, including a distracting overuse of split screen.
There are some lessons that might be gleaned from "We the Party," including Dr. Sutton's insistence that "minimum effort now means minimum wage later." But no one seems interested in practicing what that noble character preaches. Instead, the message seems to be: Kids will take their academics seriously, but only with the right incentive.
Contains language, sexual content and drug use involving teens