By Jessica Delfanti | March 1, 2013
Director: Jon Lucas, Scott Moore
Writer: Jon Lucas, Scott Moore
Starring: Skylar Astin, Miles Teller, Justin Chon, Sarah Wright, Jonathan Keltz, Francois Chau
Most Americans have heard the story: the 21st birthday that starts out with grandiose ambitions and ends in vomit and tears. Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, the writer/director duo that brought us The Hangover, now turn their attention to the ritual of the 21st birthday and its associated disasters in the funny but juvenile 21 & Over. A movie that reeks of teenage boy with all the power of a high school locker room, 21 & Over follows a trio of high school best friends rejoined for the purpose of a ill-advised celebration of a 21st birthday. There is Miller (Miles Teller), a deadbeat with a heart of gold; Casey (Skylar Astin), a square with a heart of gold; and Jeff Chang (Justin Chon), a pre-med student in need of a party. When Casey and Miller determine to take Jeff Chang out for his birthday, despite a med school interview and the warnings of Jeff Chang’s austere father (Francois Chau), it is a matter of shots before things go awry.
We could go further into the details of the plot but, as in so many of these films, the narrative takes back seat to ongoing banter and general frivolity. Most of the film relies on Casey and Miller’s barbed conversations which are intended to indicate a growing separation between the two as they attempt to relate via a high school connection that they swiftly discover is no longer intact. While the script supplies some good content (though it makes one miss the snappiness and vulgarity of Superbad), it eventually falls short by posing its two focal characters as one sided foils of each other. Astin’s buttoned-up Casey is sympathetic but dull and overly simple; Teller’s blunt Miller is a “smart but unmotivated” archetype that brings nothing new or interesting to the table. Both Teller and Astin, it turns out, get overshadowed by Chon, who gives a particularly impressive performance, given that he spends two thirds of the film unconscious.
Granted, the film is full of giddy indulgence, some jokes eye roll worthy but certainly hitting their marks, even if solely from shock value. As the trio follows The Hangover formula, trying to pursue a very simple objective which inadvertently leads them through ridiculous scenarios, it is easy to laugh if only at the ridiculousness of the film. However, much of the humor is tempered by a sense of glaring naivete; it seems like a movie written by teenagers about what they think being 21 is like, rather than adults that understand the less illustrious truth.
In addition, there are some interesting and awkward taste choices that throw the film off. Primary of these is a tacked on, forced romance between Casey and Nicole (Sarah Wright). Nicole is painted to be an alternative free spirit planning on an exciting trip to South America, but Wright is dressed, made up, and depicted as just about the dullest thing anyone’s ever seen. She performs her lines with an airy vacancy, as if she’s just memorized the words but doesn’t know what she’s saying, and the lack of chemistry between her and Astin leaves us yearning for his Pitch Perfect pairing with the talented and quirky Anna Kendrick.
The love interest isn’t the only part that stinks of phony imitation quirkiness. Much of the setting depicts students wearing sweaters or glasses that are labeled as “nerds,” while every shot of the film seems to feature a can of PBR. All in all, it feels uncomfortably like a film made by mainstream bros masquerading as “hipsters,” setting a tone of self-facing disdain and general insincerity.
Certainly, for its demographic, 21 & Over will be much beloved and a roaring success, but for those that actually are 21 and over, the film will read as a teenage fever dream with a few too many penis jokes.