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A Smart, Subversive Comedy

Directed by Steve Pink (High Fidelity, Gross Pointe Blank) and written by Adam Cooper and Bill Collage, Accepted is -- surprise, surprise -- a refreshing comedy with consistently strong laughs, a message that's more subversive than offensive and characters for whom it is worth rooting. For adult moviegoers, the absence of scatological humor is a definite plus, although it may not be enough to convince them to see Accepted in a movie theater.

Like his Melvillian namesake, Bartleby Gaines (Justin Long) has spent his high school career amassing a spectacularly underwhelming resume of underachievement. With mediocre grades and poor test scores, it's unlikely that Bartleby will get into a "good" college as his parents, Jack (Mark Derwin) and Diane (Ann Cusack), hope and expect. Disaster strikes when Bartleby learns that even his safety school has rejected him. To make matters worse, he can't take solace in an understanding girlfriend. The girl of his dreams, Monica (Blake Lively), is so far outside his league she barely notices Bartleby, plus she already has a boyfriend in a superficial, popular jock, and will attend Harmon University, the most prestigious school in the area in the fall.

Not one to disappoint his parents, Bartleby enlists the help of his best friend and computer whiz, Sherman (Jonah Hill), to create a convincing website for the fictitious South Harmon Institute of Technology (S.H.I.T.). The ruse works, and Jack's father hands him a check for $10,000 dollars and promises to drop Bartleby off at school in the fall. Bartleby isn't alone though in facing a college-free future.

Hands (Columbus Short), an artistically inclined ex-athlete, is also out of luck, due to a sports injury and a now-absent college scholarship. Rory (Maria Thayer), an overachiever who aimed too high (she applied to Yale and didn't get in), faces similar circumstances. The group is rounded out by a dim-witted slacker, Glen (Adam Herschman), who didn't bother applying to college and can't hold down a menial job.

Bartleby uses his father's check as seed money, leasing a rundown mental asylum and, with the help of his friends, cleaning it up. He also hires Sherman's uncle/disgraced academic, Ben (Lewis Black), as the acting dean. Bartleby's scam goes from bad to worse when he discovers Sherman's website has worked all too well, leading to the appearance of 300 college students on the day he “officially” opens the college. Against his better judgment, Bartleby welcomes the new students. He hits upon the perfect solution to the lack of teachers: let the students design their own classes. Meanwhile, Harmon University’s dean (Anthony Heald) wants nothing more than to expand his university's acreage. Bartleby's experimental college, of course, stands in the way.

Accepted follows the well-worn, formulaic pattern in the tiny subset of college comedies that became part of popular culture with 1978's Animal House, meaning we have an underachieving, anti-authoritarian, marginalized, but still resourceful hero, a grab bag of supporting characters/clichés, a hissable villain in a rule-bound dean, pretty boy jocks and frat types, and a recognition that maximum freedom and minimum responsibility (a/k/a college) is always good fodder for moviegoers in nostalgia mode. As for why we root for Bartleby, he’s the classic underdog, making his questionable, possibly illegal behavior, that much easier to forgive.

More importantly (and less seriously), Accepted is a comedy. And, surprisingly, it is consistently funny. Pink and his screenwriters include a liberal, almost excessive, number of one-liners, sight gags, and character-driven humor. While the cast won’t be nominated anytime for any awards, they turn in serviceable performances. Fans of comedian/provocateur Lewis Black will be happy to know that he has more than a walk-on cameo in Accepted.

Black is given ample opportunity to let loose his patented rants against everything and anything, most of it hilarious. Luckily, though, Black’s rants don’t stop or slow Accepted’s momentum (although thinking about the obvious solution to Bartleby’s initial problem, e.g., community college, might). This all means the movie deserves everything it’s worked so hard to earn, a reservation-free recommendation.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars