Directed by: Josh Schwartz
Written by: Max Werner
Starring: Victoria Justice, Jane Levy, Thomas Mann, Jackson Nicoll, Osric Chau, Thomas McDonnell, Kerri Kenney, Ana Gasteyer
If, in an overly optimistic mood, you imagined nothing but quality filmmaking from a collaboration between Josh Schwartz, the writer-creator of “The O.C.,” not to mention “Gossip Girl” and ‘Chuck,” and Max Werner, a current writer on “The Colbert Report,” then, sadly, you’d be flat-out wrong, so wrong that you couldn’t but wonder why, given the talent involved on both sides of the camera, the collaboration in question, FUN SIZE, would turn out to be a mostly unfunny slog through another holiday-themed, teen comedy (“comedy” used in an aspirational sense, of course). FUN SIZE fails primarily because neither Schwartz nor Werner could decide if they wanted to make a preteen or teen-oriented comedy. Instead, they tried to do both, failing semi-miserably, but not quite spectacularly, in the process.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s begin at the beginning or in film or literary speak, let’s being in media res. FUN SIZE revolves around Wren (Victoria Justice, TV’s “Victorious”), a Cleveland, Ohio-based, high-school senior. Like every high-school senior in every high-school-themed film (comedy or otherwise), Wren has a dream. In Wren’s case, her dream involves leaving Cleveland behind for the great state of New York and attending New York University. She’s smart, pretty, and, we’re told, if not shown, something of a nerd. Her best-friend and sidekick, April (Jane Levy, TV’s “Suburgatory”), wants to elevate their relatively low social standing by attending the biggest bash of the fall, a Halloween party at the home of Aaron Riley (Thomas McDonell), an all-around alpha male who’s one-part jock and one-part bad-boy musician (no, not really). Wren’s other friend, Roosevelt (Thomas Mann, PROJECT X), has a longstanding crush on her, but she only sees him a friendship way.
Wren’s plan to attend Riley’s party goes awry when her mother, Joy (Chelsea Handler), attending a Halloween party of her own with her much younger boyfriend, Keevin (Josh Pence), fobs off Wren’s preteen brother, Albert (Jackson Nicoll), on her for the night. A prankster by temperament (something we later learn Albert shares with his late father), Albert chooses to gore up his Spider-Man costume with a bloody, mutilated arm. When Wren loses Albert in a haunted house, she’s forced to enlist Roosevelt and Roosevelt’s equally nerdy friend, Peng (Osric Chau), to help her find Albert. Seeing their last chance of joining the school’s Cool Kids Club, Joy conspires to get Wren to Riley’s party. Along the way, Albert befriends Fuzzy (Thomas Middleditch), a convenience store employee with maturity issues and, as not-quite-expected, non-hilarity results and life-lessons, like keeping your eye on your younger brother when you enter a haunted house, abound.
FUN SIZE’s humor ranges from the mildly scatological to the mildly raunchy, the former presumably aimed at the preteen set who still find bathroom humor amusing and the latter aimed at FUN SIZE’s non-existent teenage audience (because romantic and non-romantic coupling is all they ever think about). That’s not to say FUN SIZE is a complete drag. It’s not, at least not completely. A few visual gags work, a few jokes actually hit their mark, especially anything related to Roosevelt’s off-center, hippie moms, Barb (Kerri Kenney) and Jackie (Ana Gasteyer). It’s just that most gags or jokes fail due to their predictability, unoriginality, or crudity. FUN SIZE also fails when it tries to turn the corner from comedy to drama (essentially anything involving Wren and Albert’s late father), the shift in tonality feels awkward and unearned (because it is, in fact, awkward and unearned).
If FUN SIZE has a saving grace, it’s in the game cast. Justice and Levy give maximum effort to minimally written roles, sharing an easygoing chemistry that elevates their friendship into believable territory, putting their TV-earned comedic timing to mostly positive use. Any actor who under twenty or any actor over twenty who can still pass for a high-school senior could have played the male leads. That’s less a knock on FUN SIZE’s male leads and more a knock on Werner’s script and Schwartz’s unimaginative direction. Ultimately, however, the real problem with FUN SIZE is a straightforward one: Schwartz and Werner’s decision to compromise and make a demographic-straddling, preteen/teen comedy was fatally flawed from the moment Schwartz decided to direct Werner’s script.