Once upon a time, Marc Pease (Jason Schwartzman) flipped out during his high school's production of The Wiz, despite every assurance from his drama teacher, Mr. Gribble (Ben Stiller), that he was at the very least capable ("You set the bar... so that others can go beyond it!").
Eight years later, Gribble's giving The Wiz another shot, while Pease tries to keep the remaining half of his once mighty a cappella group together and heading towards some modest goal of stardom. The two of them share a common love with present-day senior Meg (Anna Kendrick), and all three of them have a love for performing -- and an aversion to anything resembling comedy over the course of The Marc Pease Experience.
The film is ostensibly a comedy, although I can only recall three apparent jokes. There are erotic moans overheard on an audio tape, along with a voice that only grows squeakier as matters progress to their natural end. There is an inordinately angry poem read aloud in class that gives teacher and peers alike brief cause for concern. And there is a bathroom-set meeting between the members of the a cappella group that is soon accompanied by off-screen urination. Other than that, there are no other set-ups, and certainly no punchlines, and while that alone doesn't make Experience an inept film -- after all, scene A does lead to scene B, and so on -- it does make for one exceedingly inert comedy.
Schwartzman does pathetic, Stiller does patronizing, Kendrick goes for indecisive, and there's nothing else to it. No character is worth caring about, worth pitying, worth paying attention to; no dilemma they face isn't too petty. And, with a straight face, the show within the film goes on (and I must say, for a public school, they do put on a pretty elaborate production). It's Hamlet 2 without the occasional zinger, Rushmore sans melancholy, and that's a shame, mostly because Schwartzman's been funny before, as has Stiller, as has director/co-writer Todd Louiso, whose supporting roles in High Fidelity and Thank You For Smoking I can vouch for, though not his work behind the camera on 2002's Love Liza.
But it comes as no surprise that, in the wake of Paramount Vantage's departure, this film sees itself getting a token release in ten markets scattered across the country. One suspects that there was no trailer because there weren't any jokes to put in it, and no wider push because there was no money to be made from it. The humor isn't low-key or deadpan or droll -- it's just not there, as if Experience were merely a movie made for the sake of it, strung together with a few favors and a lot of patience. I don't see how there was much to work with on the page, or on the set, because there just isn't much to it up on the screen.
If it's any comfort to the cast and crew, I do offer the following words of advice from none other than Marc Pease himself:
"In eight years, none of this will matter."