It’s a wonderful thing to wholly click with a comedy and buy everything that it’s selling. You get the sense that the filmmakers and performers are tapped directly into your personal sensibilities, and from minute one until the final scene your brain is primed and hotly anticipating the next big laugh. It’s a particularly magical part of the cinematic experience (to say nothing of what it’s like when you’re in a theater and get the sense that the hundreds of people around you are feeling the exact same way).
That, however, is not quite what it’s like to watch Jeremy Garelick’s The Binge – which offers something far stranger. There are times where the movie teases the potential to be something special, landing a joke so funny that you need to hit pause so that you don’t accidentally miss something important in the story. At other times lines bomb so hard that you can hear everyone in the world not laughing. There’s no rhyme or pattern to it, or anything consistent. It’s simply a movie that is purely scattershot with moments that are both hilarious and absolutely terrible.
As you can surely guess from the title, the film is a parody of The Purge franchise that imagines a future America that has instituted prohibition laws against all drugs and alcohol – with the exception being one night a year when every consumable is legal for everyone over 18. And much like how it’s commonplace today to get drunk on your 21st birthday, The Binge is a particularly popular celebration among those who have the opportunity to participate legally for the first time.
An exception to this expectation, however, is Griffin (Skyler Gisondo), a whip-smart nebbish with plans to go to Brown University who doesn’t want to see his life derailed by a night of partying – despite the constant pleading of his outgoing-but-nerdy best friend Hags (Dexter Darden). The school principal (Vince Vaughn) is particularly happy to hear that his star student isn’t binging, but it’s because of his daughter, Lena (Grace Van Dien), who Griffin has long had a crush on, that our protagonist begins to reconsider his plans to spend the night with his parents.
Hearing that Lena is planning on sneaking out to a massive local party, and desperate for the right moment to ask her to prom, Griffin capitulates to Hags and agrees to participate in the national “holiday.” Unfortunately their passes wind up getting confiscated by the principal, and heading to the house of the class weirdo, Andrew (Eduardo Franco) proves to be the first stop on what turns out to be a wild, drug-and-boozed-soaked night.
The Binge’s overly complex story means an overload of exposition.
What is ultimately the greatest flaw of The Binge is what can be called a battle with logistics. Simply put, it presents both an exposition dump nightmare while also ignoring matters of reality that very much get in the way of the story it’s trying to tell. On the former front, the movie actually gets a seriously respectable narrator to repeatedly pop in via voice over to explain details that can’t naturally come out as dialogue (such as the full history of The Binge and particular elements of its legacy)… and that’s also paired with a crazy amount of information that comes out as unnatural dialogue.
It gets unnecessarily complicated with its narrative, most notably with a contest at the end that allows individuals to try and reach “Legendary Status,” and there are certain things you just have to accept in broad strokes because the movie doesn’t provide all the right details.
You definitely shouldn’t go into The Binge expecting any kind of legitimate world building.
The more frustrating part of the film, however, is that it doesn’t feel like there was any leg work done to establish important rules and explanations for how the future works. Even if you just accept the idea that total prohibition works and is accepted in America, it totally defies logic that alcohol and drugs could be produced on the commercial level showcased in the film that would allow them to be ubiquitous and affordable. It also entirely misrepresents a number of the substances taken by the main characters (both in terms of activation time and effects) and rather than have any kind of real escalation it has the unfortunate habit of featuring protagonists as totally fucked up in one scene, and then seemingly sober in the next. Clearly there is an effort being made to skate past the concept of "overdose," but even that alone is just another problem embedded in the original idea.
What saves The Binge is simply a number of really funny scenes and performances.
The flawed inherent concept gives The Binge a rough foundation to build on, and like any structure built on a less-than-stellar foundation it regularly feels like the whole thing could collapse at any moment, but it does manage to remain upright thanks to tough studs that are strong performances and clever scenes. Between Santa Clarita Diet, The Righteous Gemstones and Booksmart, Skyler Gisondo has been proving himself as an excellent comedic talent for a while now, and this film showcases his real potential as a lead. Dexter Darden and Eduardo Franco likewise get big laughs throughout the film.
If one had to point to a weak link in the chain, it’s Vince Vaughn – whose role in the film feels like it was enhanced because he is the biggest, most established name in the cast. His arc isn’t without its highlights as he goes on a Principal Rooney-esque adventure to find his daughter and rescue her from The Binge, but it’s an overplayed hand as he eventually becomes way too big a part of the main narrative (and in a way that, again, doesn’t fully track logically).The Binge never hits that special comedy sweet spot long enough to become something really great, interrupting its streaks of hilarity with groan-inducing moments, but it does get into that zone frequently enough to be worth checking out. Admittedly it’s partially given a pass that comes from a mindset acknowledging that we can all use a good laugh these days, but that by itself is also an acknowledging that there are laughs to be had.
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