by Kerrie Costello
Fun Size marks the directorial debut for Josh Schwartz, who is known as the youngest person to ever create and run a television network series (at age 26) with The O.C. and later Gossip Girl and Chuck. It is written by Max Werner, and stars Victoria Justice (of Dan Schneider teen series Zoey 101 and Victorious) as Wren, and Chelsea Handler as her mother. Strangely produced by Nickelodeon (The Rugrats would have an aneurism at the thought of the language and sex references), Fun Size sees cameos from Johnny Knoxville and SNL actors Ana Gatseyer and Abby Eliott.
Cute but nerdy teenager Wren is set to attend the Halloween party of her high school crush. But when her mother forces her to babysit her younger, silent (and slightly odd) brother Albert instead, and he wanders off, she spends the night having various misadventures as she travels the city with her best friend trying to find him.
Fun Size is not a film which is afraid to steer into cliché territory. In fact it seems to have made a cosy little bed up in cliché town where it remains firmly for its entirety. Of course, such comedy standards and clichés are that for a reason; they work. In formulaic comedy, hitting certain marks and arcs in a film means the audience- while perhaps not inspired or enlightened- will be sufficiently entertained by the film. Unfortunately, this cannot be said in the case of Fun Size. The problems I had with this film were not its heavy leanings into well worn comedy territory, no, but the misuse and poor execution of this. That is to say, Fun Size appears to be a typical teen comedy with witty references and sexual innuendo galore, but for the most part, it didn’t even get this right.
Some scenes make a dive into teen comedy, as in one which see’s Wren’s best friend April (Jane Levy) trying to avoid a cat, whose allergies will be awoken by the Nair on her butt. Even if we side-step the fact that the only strong-smelling cosmetic product on either well groomed, fully made up hair-sprayed girl is supposedly the Nair- which is for some reason still on April- it still doesn’t make for a great joke, but just seems to scream ‘look, women can talk about their butts too!” Such teenage escapades are then intercut with Albert’s own adventure as he wanders the city alone at night, meeting various people on his journey, most of whom just want to party with him.
Here we are presented with Fun Size’s biggest downfall ; it’s sense of inbetweenness- its uncertainty with what it is as a film. The target audience is neither teenage nor child, but inhabits some odd and indiscernible place in between. It is neither a romantic comedy nor a gross out comedy, but instead both (or neither?) all at once, and with some sentimental family bits edged in there somewhere.
So many of the gags had me willing them to work, but more often or not, they just fell flat. I knew where many of the jokes and visual gags were going, I understood Schwartz ‘s aim, but then watched on as it just overshot, falling flat and blank, and leaving the audience silent. One scene with a large animatronic chicken had the potential for awkward comedy, that relatable ‘social suicide’, wherein the lead actors would be ostracised by every kid in high school forever. But instead, the selfishness and unlikeability of the film’s main characters led to this merely residing in the realms of a sexual gag. A sexual joke never goes amiss usually. But within the context of the film’s tone as a whole, I just wasn’t sure what reactions should be elicited. This scene is from a teen comedy, while those with Albert are more reminiscent of Baby’s Day Out.
Convenience store clerk Fuzzy(Thomas Middleditch), a twenty something year old man who decides to take 8 year old Albert out all night after seeing him alone, is a subplot which is neither believable nor necessary; Albert manages to be funnier on his own, with half as many words. The film displays lazy writing at times- characters use voice over or speak aloud to themselves to convey thoughts that any audience would manage to comprehend.
For me one positive was Handler’s role as Wren’s mother, whom I found to be oddly likeable here, and some jokes did hit their mark; one which sees two characters creating an Obama tapestry comes to mind, given current events.
For a film set and released on Halloween, Fun Size may not be scary, but considering this is a season based in junk food and messy parties, the tone of Fun Size may be one thing that they got just right.
All in all it seems as though studios and actors alike thought that with Schwartz attached as director, Fun Size would be a hit with the same appeal as his TV series. While it’s definitely not the most original film, it is the indecisiveness in target audience- that strange purgatory between age groups that it inhabits, that is Fun Size’s biggest failing.
Not a film without flaws, but if you’re looking for a seasonal appropriate film without the scares, Fun Size may do exactly what its title implies.