No one is going to be putting The Best and the Brightest on any 10-best lists -- but if you're looking for a comedy that offers a handful of bawdy, vulgar laughs, look no further.
And if you're looking for a demonstration by a pair of pros -- Christopher McDonald and Amy Sedaris -- on how to steal scenes, this movie is like a master class.
Sedaris is still a surprise whenever she pops up in a movie but her resume is growing. McDonald, on the other hand, has been playing outsized comic characters for the better part of two decades. His wolfish good looks, aggressive eyebrows and masterful timing promises laughs that he delivers, often in spite of the material.
The film is about Samantha (Bonnie Somerville) and Jeff (Neil Patrick Harris), who have moved from Delaware to Manhattan for Samantha's job. They've got a 5-year-old daughter who they want to enroll in a good preschool -- but the spit-takes they get from admissions officers are their first hint that they are, in fact, about five years later in applying.
So they call upon a specialist in tough admissions: Sue Lemon (Sedaris), who sees them as a lost cause but takes them on anyway. She finally lines them up with Coventry Day School, a toney institution on the Upper East Side, and creates a slightly fictionalized biography for the couple, calculated to make them attractive to the school.
Specifically, she has Jeff put down on the application that he is, in fact, a poet with a collection that is about to be published, which is a lie. But the ruse is sniffed out by the snooty headmistress (Jenna Stern), who rejects them.
Not to be deterred, Sue takes aim at the school's board of directors instead, still pushing the idea that Jeff is a poet who is controversial and edgy; in fact, his "poems" turn out to be printouts of foul-mouthed texts sent by a horny, rich and single friend of Jeff (a very funny Peter Serafinowicz) to women he met and had sex with at a swingers' club. This leads to a book-club meeting for several members of the board, including one known as The Player (McDonald) and his politician wife (Kate Mulgrew).
Most of the humor has to do with mistaken identity and the naughty thrill of out-there sexual tastes being discussed openly (under the guise of discussing "literature") by the board's poncey chairman (John Hodgman). The writing -- by director Josh Shelov and Michael Jaeger -- is tidy if never outstandingly funny.
But it's funny enough for actors of this caliber. McDonald swats one mediocre line after another out of the park, by his sheer power of insinuation. (I would kill to see him cast in a comedy that is actually well-written.) And Sedaris brings so much sass and attitude that she makes weak material stronger. It's not that funny that her instant nickname for Jeff is "Bookish" -- but she gives enough spin that it seems wittier than it is.
Harris himself, an accomplished and sly comedian, actually creates opportunities for himself playing a mild-mannered house-husband. His droll timing and subtle takes make small moments play as greater than they are.
In other words, this is a positive review for a mediocre movie with outstanding performances. The Best and the Brightest doesn't describe this movie - only its cast. It will spend about five minutes in theaters - but is definitely worth a look on VOD or Netflix.