“This ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco, this ain’t no fooling around
No time for dancing, or lovey dovey, I ain’t got time for that now”
- Life During Wartime, Talking Heads
Fun Size is overwhelmingly good-natured, as sweet and sickening as the candy that rots in the teeth of a thousand tween extras even to this day. The mechanics are flawless, the story is cohesive, the performances get the point across charmingly, and yet there’s still something lacking. Fun Size is all airy confection, a delectable meringue you bite into, only to discover nothing is at the center. You can dress it up all you want and send it out into the world, but just like the host of goblins and ghoulies in the movie, you still know in your heart of hearts it’s just not real.
Smart and pretty high school student Wren is tasked with watching her much-younger brother Albert, but when he pulls a fast one and disappears on Halloween night in the midst of trick or treating, Wren and her best friend April must enlist the help of a few friends to track him down, even as they try to attend the party of the year and Wren’s social life hangs in the balance.
Everyone is fairly one note as they only can be, sweet, intelligent Wren (Victoria Justice), selfish, boycrazy April (Jane Levy) and chubby, devilish Albert (Jackon Nicoll) who delights in causing havoc and hasn’t spoken since his father passed away. Along for the ride is Wren’s neighbor-who-is-in-love-with-her, the dear Alan Ruck-ish, studious Roosevelt (Thomas Mann) with his two moms. The cast of supporting characters that Wren must contend with are mostly harmless and uniformly complacent (apart from her own mom, played by Chelsea Handler whom I love but who cannot act even when quietly sitting and staring), from the convenience store dork (Thomas Middleditch) who essentially kidnaps Albert for a mission, to a Johnny Knoxville-played thug.
Wren and her crew go from one zany situation to the next in her search for her brother, and she is determined to find him, though no one else seems as deeply concerned that the young child has gone missing. Not the police, and even her best friend April is more committed to trying to get Wren to hook up with a hot bro than find her baby brother, which is disturbing and made me worry for Wren. Who, by the way, is possibly the perfect woman — beautiful and very smart, wise beyond her years and selfless in a way most of us can only dream of. The only people who can afford to be this good and kind are perhaps the very young, the rest of us have it beaten out of us by one too many terrible interactions with the real world, but don’t worry, optimism like that will take a mad tumble when Ohio-born Wren makes it to the big city of New York for college, if all goes according to her plan. Welcome to the jungle, Wren, and I am so sorry.
There’s a few moments in the film that I could have watched forever, such as Roosevelt’s two moms and their airy intellectualism (though I committed the grave sin of thinking that Ana Gasteyer was Kathryn Hahn for the entire film. Oops.) or Albert getting down with his bad self in the dance club with some older girls. But don’t worry, the film takes its PG-13 rating very seriously, pushing the boundaries ever so slightly and then recoiling back, happier to remain in safer pastures. There’s a few poop, fart and sex jokes throughout but nothing radical.
Though this is his first feature directorial debut, Josh Schwartz excels at this kind of story, simple and sweet, uniform and tidy, with just the hint of an edge. (He’s a genius and knows his audience, whether it’s executive producing “The O.C.” or “Gossip Girl” — the man who gave the world Seth Cohen can do no wrong by me.) The blindingly simple screenplay was written by one of Stephen Colbert’s writers, Max Werner, in what I like to imagine was a hazy weekend* lounging by a pool in Malibu, but was probably actually a fair amount of work, even simple screenplays are deceptively difficult to complete.
Fun Size is predictable enough, especially if you’ve ever seen any movie before, but that doesn’t stop it from being enjoyable at times. And yes, this is a Nickelodeon movie, but that still doesn’t quite get it off the hook. Just because kids are kids doesn’t mean we can serve up predictable plotlines and worn out jokes, repackaged for a new generation. The movies that have stood the test of time are unique, effervescent, charming yes but not cloyingly so.
Young teens and tweens will likely enjoy this one, with its relatable stereotypical characters and pleasantly meandering plot, and parents won’t hate their lives for having to see it, either. The performances aren’t strong enough to lure in anyone outside of those two ranges, unless you’re some kind of Halloween fanatic or Victoria Justice super fan. Choke it down like so many hard won Almond Joys that you snuck from your bag before mom took it away, and try to ignore that lingering tummy ache that’s just starting up.
*I wanted to make a drug joke there to be funny, but felt that would slip into libel when it was only meant to paint a picture, so hey, if Fun Size can keep it clean, I can too.