A couple twists short of a good comedy; this film seems like more of a TV prime time test spin for the cast and crew than a fully developed film.
The feature debut effort of director Benjamin Epps and screenwriter Matt K. Turner turns out to be a funny, lighthearted, but lightweight, comedy suitable for mature families. At this stage in her career, lead Olesya Rulin (playing 16 year old Emily) has not come much further than the prime time TV antics she was called upon to perform for this film.
She showed good comic talent and was able to pull off the part even though she was 24 when the film was made. Hopefully, she will expand this bandwidth in the future.
Kristin Chenoweth, as Emily’s mom Samantha, is not able to add anything more adventurous than is Olesya to this film and both seem to be channeling “Partridge Family” routines from the 1970s. All the more interesting since the film actually features the original Ms. Partridge, Shirley Jones, who is looking good for nearly eighty years old.
Matthew Modine as dad Duncan adds virtually nothing and big brother Eddie Hassell does about the same. The surprise is kid sister Joey King playing Lucinda who does a good job for a thirteen year old (she has been acting since she was four). Showing great stage presence and self-assurance, she could be someone to watch over the next ten years.
The show’s plot has the look and feel of “Little Miss Sunshine” with a twist of the bizarre “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” It is thoroughly a family comedy with an ensemble cast who are all there to get their share of exposure. Most of the cast and crew are inexperienced and the film shows it.
Having said that, the screenplay pulls off a remarkably fresh and entertaining comedy within the carefully defined bounds of the commercially acceptable. This is not a film that steps over social or ethical boundaries.
One small miscalculation might be the open use of marijuana by the father. Although pot is becoming more and more legal, state by state, it is still hard to reconcile launching this film into an “R” rating just because of a couple smoking scenes.
There is also some sexual content, but very little. One has to wonder if the film might reach a larger market with a PG-13 rating, sans grass considering that the pot smoking adds little to the marginal hilarity of the ending.
If parents are not afraid of explaining the father’s pot use to their teens, this is not a bad film for the whole family. The screenplay is a parent/child changing places story in which Emily gets an inspiration about how to shake her whacked out parents out of their miasma and back into the real world of parenting. Dad is a stoned artist producing nothing and mom is having an affair with a cypher.
Emily is a high school champion rope jumper (the faster the better) and the only person in the film who seems care about achieving anything.
If you go along with the thin story line and take the picture in the fluffy manner in which it is intended, the time passes amicably. Few surprises and, of course, success for the kids, and the adults, in the end.
The movie shows that kids can do the right thing in spite of anything their friends and family might do. Empowering enough, and, presumably, there are many families in similar situations. The bad news is that the entire exercise comes across as a bit of an exhibition and practice run for people who are a decade away from producing serious film making.
No matter, have a box of popcorn, sit back and feel relatively safe that the whole family can take this in without any serious repercussions.
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Directed by: Benjamin Epps
Written by: Matt K. Turner
Starring: Kristin Chenoweth, Matthew Modine, Olesya Rulin
Release Date: March 29, 2013
MPAA: Rated R for some sexual content and brief drug use
Run Time: 140 Minutes