Jew ‘fros of various size and stature are in full effect, and “Hava Nagila” is trotted out, along with an assortment of other musical cues, but the specificity of setting can’t help save let alone elevate Bart Got a Room, a thinly sketched air-quote comedy about a high school kid trying to figure out who he should ask to prom.
Written and directed by Brian Hecker, Bart Got a Room centers on Danny Stein (Steven Kaplan, above center), a Florida high school senior who’s laid out $600 on prom tickets and accouterments, but doesn’t yet have a date. With a couple months to go before the event, his good friend since early childhood, Camille (Arrested Development‘s Alia Shawkat), is a possibility, but Danny is torn as to whether to submit to her or make a more amorous play on someone else. Though they’re amiable and plugged into his life, his divorced parents still aren’t much help. Danny’s father, Ernie (William H. Macy, above left), is near broke, and kind of hapless; his practical-minded mother, Beth (Cheryl Hines, above right), is attracted to the financial stability of her boyfriend Bob (Jon Polito), who might soon be proposing. Much wheel-spinning ensues, on all fronts.
“It’s not natural,” Danny says at one point, when asked for dating advice by his dad. “I’ve got my own crisis here.” He might as well be talking about the entire movie, though, for there’s little here that evidences a natural heartbeat. Though he’s nominally presented as a slow-peddler, Danny gets a card from Camille paving the way for them to go to prom together… so he immediately hops on his bike and heads over to her house for dinner? He’s not freaked out by this relative act of aggression on her part, and doesn’t want to avoid having the conversation, as he already has been for weeks, if not months? OK, whatever. Once there, though, and after he balks at Camille’s offer, Danny then submits to a mild scolding from her mother, something no high school guy, no matter how polite or ineffectual, would endure.
Hecker’s movie is oddly de-sexualized, too, given its title. For all the focus on “getting a room,” there’s precious little talk — at least from the high schoolers themselves — about doing the deed, and that’s certainly not presented as at the heart of Danny’s hesitation at going with Camille. So what’s Danny’s deal? He likes Alice (Ashley Benson), the sophomore cheerleader whom he drives to school, and who changes outfits in his car, but the movie stupidly tells us that he’s misread all her signals/intentions, including suggestively licking an ice cream cone right after she would have turned down his prom invitation. This points to an overarching problem with Hecker’s work — the gulf between what it says and what characters in it purport that others are saying. The two rarely align.
Then there’s the manner in which the story unfolds. Danny’s interactions with his supposed best friend, Craig (Brandon Hardesty), are all limited to a single poolside location, since Craig is heavily into tanning in preparation for prom, yet this underscores another one of the movie’s big problems — namely, its limited scope and affinity for using the same set-ups over and over. In fact, from these wrongheaded interactions and stagings all the way down to interstitial bits (“Free condoms with tuxedo rental” reads a store sign, something that likely wouldn’t fly in most liberal communities, let alone a Florida retirement town) and the fact that Danny and Camille’s will-they-or-won’t-they dance plays out until literally the hour leading up to prom, Bart Got a Room is an uninterrupted string of false moments, and an underdeveloped one at that. Sans opening and closing credits, the movie barely crosses the 70-minute mark. Leave this sloppy, half-baked piece of would-be nostalgia alone; no matter traumatic your own prom, a trip down memory lane with it is time better spent.
Housed in a regular plastic Amaray case with a carved-out spindle receptacle that uses less plastic than normal cases, Bart Got a Room comes with an accompanying cardboard slipcover, and is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, with a Dolby 5.1 surround sound audio track and optional English SDH and Spanish subtitles. Apart from the movie’s theatrical trailer, and previews for Sex and Death 101, Kim Basinger’s While She Was Out and three other Anchor Bay home video titles, the only supplemental feature is a VH-1-style pop-up trivia track, which plays over the feature and provides anecdotal tidbits about the production and cast. Among the nuggets of information gleaned: the movie was shot in Hollywood, Florida, Hecker’s hometown; Danny’s car was secured by placing solicitations under the windshields of local clunkers; Hines’ first car was a Dodge Dart Swinger; and Hecker expressly forbade any girls from the opening shot of the band in the movie, not wanting the audience to think that there might be any romantic prospects lurking there for Danny. Like the film itself, this release is attractively packaged, but thin on insight and content. Nevertheless, to purchase the DVD via Amazon, click here; to purchase the DVD via Half, meanwhile, click here. D+ (Movie) D+ (Disc)