Best and the Brightest, The


Kindergarten Farce

Main Cast: Neil Patrick Harris, Bonnie Somerville, Amy Sedaris

Director: Josh Shelov

Here in the middle of the country, kindergarten is not generally viewed at a competitive sport.  Most kids go to public school and the greatest trauma for the parents is letting go of their baby on the first day or having to explain to their child that paste is not one of the recognized food groups.  In Manhattan, however, public school is for chump parents and a swanky private school will not only cost a fortune but you must kiss some serious ass to gain admittance.  You better get on it while that kid is no more than an embryo if you want even the smallest chance at the most prestigious classes in coloring and cutting for your little bundle of joy.

In The Best and the Brightest, Jeff (Neil Patrick Harris) and Sam (Bonnie Somerville) have relocated from Delaware.  They have a 5-year-old.  They want to get her into private school the following fall.  They’re doomed.  Or are they?  Sam is very driven to make this happen.  The move was her idea and though they live in a tiny basement apartment there is money for that private school.  She really wants to be a big-league, bi-city, big-success Manhattan parent.  Jeff loves her, so along for the ride he goes.  What they find is far more daunting than they ever imagined and the film evolves into complete farce as they do every last thing in their power to get the last available private kindergarten spot in the city.

I’ve grown to love Neil Patrick Harris.  From his childhood fame as Doogie Howser, M.D. to his stage career to his many turns at hosting awards shows and his silly, often self-deprecating appearances in all manner of entertainment genres, he’s a child actor who has aged like a fine wine.  Currently starring in TV’s How I Met Your Mother, he takes a break from that lecherous character to star as Jeff, a hard working, down to earth computer programmer who wants nothing more than a simple life with his family, but loves his wife enough to embark on this crazy quest.  Harris is most definitely the straight man here and his facial expressions and comic timing are impeccable.

Bonnie Somerville, who I knew only as a woman who sang a great song on the Garden State soundtrack is cute and funny and wickedly desperate to chase a dream of being a big city success.  Even as we watch her go through the most ridiculous of machinations to achieve what is at best a dubiously beneficial goal, it’s hard not to like her.  She isn’t quite ready to settle into Delaware domesticity and is willing to go quite some distance to chase an elusive ideal of big city success.  She and Harris have an easy chemistry that makes them believable as a team in these ridiculous shenanigans.

Along for the ride is an amusing supporting cast including Amy Sedaris as a consultant who specializes in getting children into private school.  She knows the players, she knows the game and she just wacked out enough to play it to the hilt.  Sedaris is always funny, but too much of her can be grating.  The Best and the Brightest brushes up against that edge on a few occasions but mostly pulls back in time to keep us liking Sedaris rather than wishing she would shut the hell up.  Jenna Stern is absolutely priceless as the ruthless headmistress at the school Sam and Jeff are trying to enter.  She has one scene in which she reads a “poem” supposedly written by Jeff that’s as excruciating as it is funny.  The play between her recitation and the tortured expression on Harris’ face is fabulous.  Peter Serafinowitz (who looks oddly like a young Christopher Walken) is on hand as Jeff’s one friend in Manhattan.  He just happens to be a devoted pervert.

In smaller roles we get Christopher McDonald (does anyone remember Ally McBeal?), Kate Mulgrew (Captain Janeway from Star Trek Voyager) and John Hodgman (you’ll recognize him from The Daily Show) as members of the board of the school.  McDonald and Mulgrew are deliciously and unapologetically corrupt and depraved while Hodgman is a clueless stooge with grand delusions of his own intellect and sophistication.  All well played and an integral part of the crazier aspects of the farce.

Just because the subject is kindergarten admission do not make the mistake of ignoring the R rating given to The Best and the Brightest.  The rating is absolutely appropriate – this is a comedy for adults, filled with nudity, bad language and compromising situations.  All of which are very funny, but I wouldn’t want to watch them with any kid, not even a teenager (they would be mortified to be watching naked people walking around a swingers club with their parents).  Save this one for the grown-ups.

The Best and the Brightest is a good movie, not a great one, but thoroughly entertaining for the duration of its runtime.  If you are firmly anti-farce, don’t bother.  Watch for the performances of the cast – especially Harris, Somerville and Stern – and the slap in the face to the pseudo-intellectual parents who think that kindergarten is not only a competitive sport, but a full contact one.  It’s a fun little movie. 4 stars out of 5.

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