The Best and the Brightest should be called The Worst and the Dumbest. Written on the lid of a toilet seat and directed in a coma by a first-time hack named Josh Shelov, this is the kind of crap that proves the movie world is overpopulated with amateurs who call themselves producers, always ready with a fast buck to squeeze their names into the opening credits of gibberish in order to establish an entry on the Internet Movie Data Base.
Sometimes they even dupe a dope like Neil Patrick Harris into playing a role, hoping for a sale. The best thing I can hope is that somebody throws the negative of The Best and the Brightest into a quick bonfire.
To make a painful ordeal less unbearable than it actually is, let’s waft through the incomprehensible plot. Preppie-faced Mr. Harris, who still looks like Doogie Howser, plays a nerdy computer programmer named Jeff Jasinski (lots of nonstop Polish jokes, inserted instantly) who inherits some money and moves, for no explainable reason, from Delaware to Manhattan (to further his career? He’s a computer geek; you can do that anywhere!) with his snobby, social-climbing wife, Samantha, played by a forgettable bottle blonde named Bonnie Somerville. Armed with an interminable supply of pretense and a 5-year-old daughter, they move into a crummy basement and decide to spend the rest of the movie (and all of their new money) on the humiliation and trauma of trying to get their kid into the kind of pretentious Upper East Side kindergarten where they insult and ridicule applicants and still demand a $30,000-per-year tuition. From that clubfoot premise, the movie hobbles down the drain into the New York sewer system in record speed.
I have never tried to bypass the public school hierarchy by bribing, begging or prostituting a child into a private kindergarten, so I don’t know how much of this 93-minute crap shoot is based in reality, but even as a farce it is as totally dubious as it is irrevocably lousy. First, they hire a vulgar, loud-mouthed, politically incorrect kindergarten headhunter (Amy Sedaris—fire your agent, girl) who passes off Jeff as a soon-to-be-published e.e. cummings-type poet, but the sample poems he takes along on an interview are the pornographic emails of his skanky best friend and sometime babysitter, Clark (Peter Serafinowicz), a deviate lunatic who specializes in torturing prostitutes. The headmistress of the school (Jenna Stern) has a secret passion for pornography and has a hot flash just reading a sample. Naturally, she passes the Jasinskis immediately, but first they must pretend to throw a dinner party for the board of directors. These are supposed to be upwardly mobile, well-educated movers and shakers from the New York cultural and financial worlds, but they all talk like trailer trash. At the elite dinner to meet the board, one supervisor dreams aloud of being sodomized and longs for golden showers. Another asks for a hand job. A third is a pedophile who carries a bedtime book to the child’s bed upstairs and closes the door. The Jasinskis are almost in, but as one last concession, Jeff is forced to accompany the rich and powerful president of the board (Christopher McDonald) and his date, a whore just released from a padded cell in a state institution, to a sex club called the Nectar Room, where he confesses to Jeff that his favorite pastime with women is to “fill them up with cranberry juice and just let them pee out their sanity.” Jeff is saved by the bell when the school headmistress is caught being sodomized by Clark, who is dressed like a campy Spider-Man. Who will be present on the opening day of kindergarten? As Richard Nixon used to say, have you had enough?
Cheap, preposterous and mind-bendingly dreadful, The Best and the Brightest is full of loud, fast, gross-out dialogue (by Mr. Shelov and his writing partner, Michael Jaeger) about “ritualistic sodomy” and “Jew money” that is supposed to pass for clever, but all it passes for is verbal flatulence. Maybe it’s supposed to be a parody of the phony hypocrites who run the New York education system, but even a failed farce demands timing, and this one fails on simply every level. Whole scenes end in midsentence. Characters enter and leave without a shred of motivation. The acting is uniformly amateurish because there is nothing to act. For a talented young television actor who just did a fine job hosting the Tony Awards on CBS, Mr. Harris looks anesthesized. Sometimes he cannot be heard above a whisper. I chalk it up to the failure to cover up an obvious excess of red-faced embarrassment. It might be interesting to see what Mr. Shelov could do if he ever decides to tell an actual story of any importance on film, but on the basis of this junk heap of misused energy and aborted comic ideas heading for a brick wall, it’s doubtful that he could direct traffic in a bus lane.
THE BEST AND THE BRIGHTEST
Running time 93 minutes
Written by Josh Shelov and Michael Jaeger
Directed by Josh Shelov
Starring Neil Patrick Harris, Bonnie Somerville, Amy Sedaris