J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

HairBrained: Beat Harvard

Haven’t we all been waiting for the definitive College Bowl movie? They call it Collegiate Mastermind here, but it is the same idea. However, viewers should be prepared to grade on a very generous curve when Billy Kent’s HairBrained (trailer here) opens tomorrow in New York.

Fourteen year-old Eli Pettifog might be a child prodigy, but will have to settle for Whitman College, a small east coast liberal arts school of modest reputation, instead of his dream school: Harvard. Perhaps not unreasonably, he finds himself rooming with Leo Searly, a forty-something (at least) compulsive gambler amidst a mid life crisis. Of course, this only heightens his sense of social isolation. Naturally, the dumbest of the jocks picks on him mercilessly, because his Yahoo Serious hair is simply a magnet for bullying.

Yet, Pettifog starts to make a place for himself when he takes over Whitman’s Collegiate Mastermind team. Powered by Pettifog’s brain, they start crushing their Ivy League competition. Soon the Whitman Warring Hares attract mighty Harvard’s attention—in a bad way.

HairBrained might not be the most original film, but the villains are from Harvard, so it has that going for it. Pettifog’s hair and his Dickensian name are about the only things in the film that are not lightweight. Still, Julia Garner is quite winning as Shauna, the townie prodigy, whom Pettifog takes a shine to. Greta Lee (recognizable to hipsters from her work on Girls) has some moments as well as Pettifog’s teammate, Gertrude. It is also hard to fault Brendan Fraser, who labors like a rented mule trying to make man-child Searly likable.

The problem is Pettifog is just sort of boring, which is obviously a big one considering how much of him there is in HairBrained. Frankly, Real Genius covered similar territory in the 80’s, but with considerably more wit and edge.  Nonetheless, there is a real tonal issue with respects to Pettifog’s mom (a criminally wasted Parker Posey), who is presented within the film as a lovably boozy trollop, but in real life would probably warrant a social services investigation.

There is not much to say after watching HairBrained, except “eh.” To his credit, Kent keeps it moving along at a reasonably healthy pace. It is mostly harmless and professional, but not a lot more. Earning a shrug more than anything else, HairBrained opens tomorrow (2/28) in New York at the Quad Cinema.

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