The Best and the Brightest explores the world of prospective kindergarten enrollees at Manhattan’s exclusive private schools and the extreme lengths a young couple from Delaware must go to in order to get their five-year-old daughter into a private kindergarten in New York City’s Upper East Side. Though the film boasts an impressive array of comedic actors, writer-director Josh Shelov (along with writing partner Michael Jaeger) fails to produce a script worthy of that talent. The most tragic aspect of this film is that the premise is ripe for satire, but rather than mine the subject for what it’s worth, Shelov resorts to cheap mistaken-identity shenanigans and raunchy gags. Drearily shot with cheesy New York skyline pans and filthy one-liners, and oppressively scored, Shelov’s ode to big-city determination is a tonal mishmash of poor comedic aptitude and risque dialogue.
The story centers on a young couple, Jeff (Neil Patrick Harris) and Samantha (Bonnie Somerville), who have only recently moved to town. Samantha is determined to get their five-year-old daughter into an elite elementary school on the Upper East Side, but every private school in the city informs her that she’s simply too late to apply for a spot in the fall -- the gag being that the wait list is filled by still-pregnant mothers. Nonetheless, the couple is unwaveringly convinced that their tyke deserves a spot, forcing them to find a loophole with the help of sassy goofball consultant Sue Lemon, played by Amy Sedaris. The only way Sue is able to arrange it, though, is by telling a single lie to the headmistress -- that Harris’ tongue-tied computer programmer is actually a distinguished poet. The “poems” turn out to be printouts of foul-mouthed texts sent by a horny, rich, and single friend of Jeff’s to a series of women he met and had sex with at a swingers club.
Keeping this ridiculous lie aloft is the main action of the movie, as Sam and Jeff are forced to prove their poetic leanings not only to the school’s headmistress but to the entire school board. The lie snowballs into an increasingly outlandish, vulgar, cliched farce, and while most of the humor has to do with the naughty thrill of out-there sexual tastes being discussed openly -- under the guise of “literature” -- by the school board’s pompous chairman, the film can never quite get out of eye-rolling territory.
If you’re expecting the hilarious comedic stylings of Neil Patrick Harris, you’ll be sorely disappointed, as he plays the straight man here. The film is marketed as a NPH vehicle, but Shelov completely misuses him -- NPH should never, ever play the straight man. Supporting cast member Amy Sedaris, as the sort of reverse recruiter of the rug-rat set, is the best part of this film. In fact, the film’s funniest moment is a sight gag in which Sedaris’ character is seen dragging a body across the floor of an elegant Upper East Side townhouse. Indeed, the underachieving picture is carried along by the gleeful will of Sedaris, who is way funnier than the material deserves, yet not even she can save it, and The Best and the Brightest fails to find its footing.
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- Released: 2010
- Rating: R
- Review: The Best and the Brightest explores the world of prospective kindergarten enrollees at Manhattan’s exclusive private schools and the extreme lengths a young couple from Delaware must go to in order to get their five-year-old daughter into a private kinderg… (more)