Dir: Brian Hecker. 2008. USA. 80mins.
Bart Got A Room falls in that painful neurotic sphere that connects the vulgarities of lower-middle-class Jewish family life in Tamara Jenkins's The Slums of Beverly Hills, the Floridian sterility and kooky dysfunction of Little Miss Sunshine, and the unfocused, ever-horny worldview of Philip Roth's adolescence. Yet its director, Brian Hecker, is for the most part an original, a perceptive observer of the angst that tortures the hormonally-driven Jewish teen boy who is unable to square his sudden biological needs with what he perceives to be the expectations of his community and, especially, his parents.
Hecker has a firm grasp on editing for comic effect, and clearly knows how to use his actors to those ends. The film is hilarious, often underplayed, and if marketed carefully could find a welcoming niche audience, Jewish or not. Even without big names-William H. Macy (looking absurd in a dark brown curly wig) and Cheryl Hines (Curb Your Enthusiasm) are the most recognizable-Bart Got a Room could have a successful ancillary life, though a theatrical breakthrough is a distinct possibility.
Hecker shoots around his hometown of Hollywood, Florida, where the young folk at the center of the picture are constantly surrounded by elderly retirees enjoying, or perhaps only enduring, their last days. The fact that the kids are just getting started with their lives, are in the process of severing the cords that bind them to their folks, in the midst of these relaxed old codgers is acknowledged repeatedly to humorous effect.
The principal plot is simple enough:18-year-old Danny Stein (Kaplan) is unable to find a date to the upcoming senior prom. Should we not grasp its importance in American society, the film is punctuated by title cards indicating how many days and hours are left until the event itself. But even in a movie of refreshingly unconventional-looking characters, Danny's eyes are focused on the one blonde who represents the other, non-Jewish world. She is out of his league, of course, though Hecker can't help creating scenes of ice cream licking that resemble oral sex (in Danny's mind anyway). He ends up spending prom night with his own. (We hear Hava Nagila several times on the soundtrack, just to keep our bearings.) His own includes not just the homely Jewish girl he has been trying to ignore, but his recently-divorced parents, whom he ultimately guides into a bar mitzvah reception rather than the unbelievably tacky prom itself.
Kaplan has a knack for looking uncomfortable in his own skin while still knowing how to handle situations that spin out of control. That Hecker knows how to shoot him, and to provide subtle shadows around his lanky frame, is a big help. Danny's loud extended family and his group of arrhythmic friends (he's in the school band) are credible, if annoying. You get the feeling that Hecker is drawing on his own adolescent experiences. A real plus is the big band music that runs throughout the picture. By film's end, Danny has learned a lot about himself, his place in society, and what values are really important. Should he so desire, Hecker could easily find a place in the commercial filmmaking world, with comedy scripts laden with Judaica piling up at his agent's door.
The title refers to every American male teen's prom dream: To not only have a foxy date, but to have rented a hotel room in the hope of taking her there afterward-or at least, having your friends believe that you scored. That Bart himself is the most uncool kid in school only adds another layer of comic irony to the enterprise.
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Daniela Taplin Lundberg
Steven J. Kaplan
William H. Macy
Chad Jamian Williams