Tuesday, June 21, 2011

A New York Schooling: The Best and the Brightest

Every year, parents across New York’s social strata are humbled by the private school application process. Of course, the City’s public schools are always an option, or if parents prefer to save some time, they can always ship their children directly to prison. Surely, that is an exaggeration, but the angst experienced by the Jasinskis is definitely grounded in reality. The Delaware transplants go to extreme comedic lengths to enroll their daughter at an elite kindergarten in Josh Shelov’s The Best and the Brightest, which opens this Friday in New York.

Taking the “if you can make here” lyrics to heart, Jeff and Sam Jasinski packed up the U-Haul and move to Manhattan. However, they quickly discover how competitive private kindergarten admissions truly are. Evidently, the time to start applying is around the third trimester. Sue Lemon can help. The slightly manic consultant specializes in pulling strings for parents willing to pay and she happens to know of an opening Coventry Day.

Unfortunately, the snobby headmistress Katherine Heilmann is having none of the Jasinskis, forcing them to appeal directly to the board. Ostensibly chaired by the “PC Guy,” the real power on the board are “The Player” and his politician wife, who would be ridiculous Republican caricatures if they were not so much more fun than everyone else in the film.

Indeed, Mr. and Mrs. Player bandy about some deliciously cutting lines, frankly outdoing the outrageousness of Amy Sedaris’ Lemon. Maybe viewers are supposed to despise them, but they certainly liven things up around the joint. Shelov and co-writer Michael Jaeger also create some slightly naughty but appropriately manic situations, largely revolving around the Jeff Jasinski’s masquerade as an explicit hipster poet.

Neil Patrick Harris shows effective restraint, largely playing Jasinski straight. Bonnie Somerville gets a bit tiresome as the somewhat tigerish mom, but Sedaris’ eccentric energy helps compensate. Still, Christopher McDonald and Kate Mulgrew steal all their scenes outright as the Republican power couple (in real life, best of luck finding their likes on the Upper Eastside). Conversely, chicken-legged Peter Serafinowicz is rather flat and underwhelming as the Jasinskis’ rich ne’er do well friend, Clark. Hardcore geeks should take note though, in addition to Voyager’s Mulgrew, Bridget Regan from Legend of the Seeker also appears as Robin, Jeff Jasinski’s unstable ex.

Overall, Brightest is a pleasant, if modest, picture, featuring several clever sequences and some acerbic zingers. Shelov maintains a light tone and keeps things moving along nicely. An amusing diversion a step or two above TV sitcoms (decidedly of the pay cable variety), Brightest opens this Friday (6/24) in New York at the Quad Cinema.