A nerdy high school senior waits until the last minute to find a prom date in “Bart Got a Room,” a light, funny coming-of-ager set in the endearingly un-hip retirement community of Hollywood, Fla. Freshman feature heralds the arrival of a notable new talent in AFI-trained writer-director Brian Hecker, who gives a fresh twist to his tale of raging male hormones, peer pressure and other rites of passage. Lovingly based on the helmer’s own adolescence and dysfunctional Jewish family, this tightly scripted, strongly acted, confidently directed and impressively designed item has niche theatrical appeal, with even greater potential in ancillary.
Much sweeter and less raunchy than coming-of-agers such as “Superbad” or “Slums of Beverly Hills,” “Bart’s” clever, PG-level innuendo is engaging and suitable for family viewing. Setting among South Florida retirees evokes the cycle of life, with placid seniors providing quiet perspective on the existential crises of the younger generations. Jewish element is not overly stressed, and indeed pic could work just as well with characters of a different ethnicity.
For over-achieving middle-class protag Danny Stein (Steven J. Kaplan, outstanding), the main challenges of the moment are deciding on a date for prom and not freaking out over his parents’ divorce. His mom Beth (Cheryl Hines, almost unrecognizable in a brown wig) and dad Ernie (William H. Macy, topped with an unflattering “Jew fro”) are both already dating other people.
As Danny’s know-it-all buddy Craig (a hilarious Brandon Hardesty) ratchets up the pressure surrounding prom (“What other evening in your whole life is as big? Maybe your wedding. But odds are that will end in divorce”), Danny starts to rethink his original intention of escorting best friend Camille (down-to-earth Alia Shawkat), instead hoping to score some after-party action with a sexy girl he barely knows. Hecker gives sprightly life to Danny’s fantasies with stylized daydreams, the first of which, involving lissome blond cheerleader Alice (Ashley Benson), matches for yearning anything in “Goodbye, Columbus.”
Hecker shows flair for understated visual comedy, setting ironic bits of business in the background as main characters remain oblivious in the foreground. Several of the best moments involve Ernie’s embarrassing attempts to pass along his sexual knowledge to his son.
Helped by pitch-perfect editing from Danny Rafic and Annette Davey, Hecker also excels at fluidly staging screwball intensity. As title cards count down the moments until prom, there’s a montage of Danny dialing the numbers of everyone he’s ever met, while his supportive father abruptly deserts his own date (an amusing cameo by Jennifer Tilly) to search for an available female among a hotel’s bar mitzvah guests.
Happy ending comes off as a tad too tidy; Danny ultimately grasps the important life lessons without having to endure any pain, and female characters are forced to tolerate some boorish behavior. Regardless, Hecker proves himself ready to helm commercial fare.
Perfs are dynamite across the board, with youthful newcomers holding their own with comic pros Macy and Hines. Smooth tech package is top-notch.
Title (an oft-repeated remark throughout the pic) states the fact that even school’s biggest nebbish, Bart (Chad Jamian Williams), scored a date and hotel room for prom, and thus becomes a comic benchmark of the event’s importance. Post-final credits footage shows how Bart made out.