Does anyone actually have that idyllic prom society designates as the apex of high school? Yes, many teens have a great time, but most don’t have nights filled with choreographed dance numbers, class losers winning prom queens, or cameos by their favorite band. For that matter, I’ve never heard of a girl getting doused with pig’s blood or another being accused of murder via recordable greeting card. After years of absurdity, writer-director Brian Hecker finally brings us a believable look at the big night.
Danny Stein (Steven Kaplan) is a good guy. He plays the trumpet in the school band, is a member of the prom committee, and even drives his neighbor to school. Okay, his neighbor is a cute, blonde sophomore from the cheerleading squad (Ashley Benson), but it’s still a nice gesture. Prom is right around the corner, and Danny has just about everything in order, except for the key ingredient to the perfect prom: a date.
You’d think the simple solution to the problem would be to take his best friend, Camille (Alia Shawkat). His parents (William H. Macy and Cheryl Hines) adore her, her parents are pushing the issue, and he really cares about her…but the lackluster concept of taking his closest friend to prom doesn’t thrill him. His hopes of finding his dream date are high until his uncomfortably sardonic best friend informs him that the ultimate class nerd, Bart, already has a date. The search goes from cruise control to overdrive as Danny sorts through all of his options. Option number one: Alice, his carpool buddy and certified school hottie. Their car-ride conversations may be riddled with nonsense, but when you do a double-take, everything she says actually makes a lot of sense. I’d never go through as much trouble as Alice to explain how a friend resembles their car, but she purports a fairly well-structured argument. Too bad she only thinks of Danny as a big brother.
Option number two: well, Danny doesn’t really know, but she comes highly recommended. Unfortunately, he can’t meet her harsh time restrictions and he’s back to where he started, dateless. Drastic times call for drastic measures. Danny makes a desperate play for a girl he deems respectable from one of his classes. She’s even receptive to the idea of being Danny’s prom date, as long as they don’t arrive together, don’t take any pictures together, and don’t actually see each other unless it’s in a room at an after party.
Kaplan may not have much acting experience, but he’s a natural. He’s awkward, but not uncomfortably so. Whereas Shawkat complements Kaplan’s naturalness, bringing life to her character, Macy takes it a bit too far, creating such an extreme character that it damages the authenticity of the film. Yes, Macy and Hines are meant to play divorcees plagued by eccentricities, but Macy walks a fine line between offbeat and ludicrous. Luckily, the rest of the cast keeps the story in check and enjoyable.
The pieces of the plot blend seamlessly. Rather than hop from calamity to calamity, Danny’s misadventures are connected through charming secondary scenes involving his parents and the epicenter of the old and retired, Florida. Even the music is well chosen, helping keep the film moving at a comfortable pace and enhancing the feelings the film wants to evoke. If you need a movie to restore some faith in the quirky-comedy genre, Bart Got a Room is perfect for you.
Who needs DVD commentary when you can have a pop-up production notebook? Even the most thrilling movies can sometimes be dragged down by monotonous commentary. Not only is the noise of pop-up bubbles a million times more fun than listening to a director drone on and on about his vision, but the information they contain is much more interesting than the typical facts discussed during the commentary segment. It’s also impossible to actually watch the film while the commentary is on. With the pop-up bubbles, you can easily enjoy the film while reading the text. There’s just enough that you learn a lot about the production process, but not too many that you wish you could turn them off in the middle of the film. If you’re watching a quirky comedy, you’re not going to feel like getting serious and listening to a group of people lecture you about the film. You want to keep having some fun, and some of these bubbles are pretty damn funny.
The only other bonus features are the theatrical trailer and a handful of sneak peeks. Luckily the sneak peeks are offered to you in menu format, so you don’t have to sit through them all to get to the one you want. There’s While She Was Out, Sex and Death 101, The Grand, Hollywood Residential, and Surfer, Dude.
No, you don’t get a slew of interactive special features, but Bart Got a Room is effortless, raw, and funny, and so is the production notebook. You can get too much of a good thing, and Bart Got a Room wisely keeps it simple.