In comedy, there is a function known as a "straight man." Bud Abbott of Abbott and Costello and Oliver Hardy of Laurel and Hardy are the best-known examples of this. Their job is basically to be the springboard for the goofier member of the team, as well as other, more commonplace duties like reciting all the boring, plot-advancing dialogue. Alexis Bledel is such a "straight man," or for the purposes of this review, straight woman. On her TV show "Gilmore Girls," she was a superb, smart straight woman to her offbeat, wisecracking mom (Lauren Graham). And in her two hit Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants movies, she was the practical, rock solid springboard for her three more outrageous co-stars (America Ferrera, Blake Lively and Amber Tamblyn).
Being straight man or straight woman is a good and noble job, but unfortunately it's one that doesn't translate well to leading roles. Here is Bledel, making her bid as America's next romantic comedy sweetheart, and though she fares much better than Katherine Heigl in the abysmally stupid The Ugly Truth, her new movie Post Grad is a fizzle. Her big, dewy blue eyes look great on the big screen, she has a superb wardrobe and -- refreshingly -- she radiates intelligence, but she lacks the ability to initiate any comedy. (Her main skill is to receive comedy and send it flying back again.) When she's required to do one of those cute scenes, like driving an ice cream truck onto a basketball court, giving an apology speech to her would-be-boyfriend over the truck's loudspeaker, she can't really pull the stunt off. She looks small and misplaced in the scene, rather than funny. She'd be better off as the recipient of the apology, or perhaps driving the truck while someone goofier did the loudspeaker speech.
Nevertheless, Bledel stars as Ryden Malby, a fresh-faced young thing who has spent her every waking moment since high school planning on getting a job at one of Los Angeles' top publishing houses. The movie starts with one of those brain-dead scenes in which the heroine celebrates and starts spending money the day before the actual interview, which pretty much guarantees that she will not get the job. Then, despite her fresh face and blue eyes and top-shelf education, Ryden finds that she can't get a job anywhere else, either. The movie doesn't bother to explain this; it could be because of the current bad economy, but scrubbed, generic movies like this one don't want to bring up anything depressing, like real life. Eventually her situation requires her to move back in with her suburban parents.
Thankfully, Ryden's first concern is finding a job, and her love life comes second. She has a best friend, Adam (Zach Gilford), who is sensitive and smart and funny and writes songs for her. He clearly loves Ryden, and has been open about his feelings, but she remains friends with him and doesn't feel creepy about the arrangement. Then we have the sexy, older Brazilian man, David (Rodrigo Santoro), who lives across the street. He's single, spontaneous and carefree and Ryden is instantly ready to give it up to him. Neither guy seems particularly realistic as a possible romantic solution for Ryden, and that's the movie's other problem. David so boringly perfect, and Adam starts acting like a chick (sulking and turning distant); a better solution would have been for Ryden to dump both these guys and live on her own awhile. At least the movie didn't bother with a subplot that I expected: that David is really, secretly married.
The movie does add a subplot around Ryden's younger brother, Hunter (the semi-creepy looking full-lipped, floppy-haired Hollywood moppet Bobby Coleman), and his box car race. This sequence has absolutely nothing to do with the rest of the film, but presumably it's there because it fills time and it actually moves, rather than just focusing on characters talking at one another. Regardless, parents who see this will be astonished when Hunter's car careens out of control into a lake and his father rushes to the edge of the water -- and stops. (Why wouldn't he jump in to save his son?)
But there's a silver lining. Someone very smart early in the production managed to think of casting Michael Keaton and Jane Lynch as Ryden's parents and Carol Burnett as her grandmother. And somehow, writer Kelly Fremon and director Vicky Jenson (Shrek, Shark Tale) either created funny things for them to do, or simply stepped back and allowed them to do funny things. (Curiously, the very funny J.K. Simmons is totally wasted in an unfunny role as Adam's father.) The family first appears at Ryden's graduation, coming in late, and banging grandma's oxygen tank over the heads of the people in the next row. Grandma sits down and begins crinkling and crunching a bag of chips. When someone complains, she replies -- with typical Burnett delivery -- "I'm dying." Keaton in particular has his flat-out funniest role in years, just with a random series of bits and business completely unrelated to the plot, such as trying to crazy-kung-fu an unwanted visitor.
But his best bits come in the scenes alongside his daughter, the perfect straight woman. If the movie were smarter, it would have dropped all the other nonsense and focused exclusively on these two; if that were the case, I would have been first in line for a sequel. As it stands now, however, Post Grad is set to fade away like a forgotten worker drone.