A documentary crew shadowing any randomly selected college graduate entering the workforce today would be hard-pressed to find a less compelling subject than Ryden Malby, the daydreamer Alexis Bledel plays in orphaned Fox Atomic comedy “Post Grad.” As fiction characters go, Ryden seems as dull as they come, making it hard to muster much sympathy for her plight, which amounts to the standard soul-searching every young person faces when confronted with the realities of professional life (albeit with quirkier set dressing and supporting characters). Pic’s prospects look worse than those of a liberal arts major in a recession.
Drawing heavily from the “Little Miss Sunshine” formula, minus the heart, screenwriter Kelly Fremon surrounds her heroine with family members defined by their most eccentric traits: There’s Michael Keaton as the dad obsessed with get-rich-quick schemes, Jane Lynch playing Ryden’s take-charge mom and Carol Burnett doing her part as the off-color grandparent with one foot in the grave. The Malby clan manages to upstage poor Ryden as early as the opening scene, setting the tone for the rest of the film as they burst in late on her college graduation, calling attention to themselves on her special day.
Ryden’s the type who thinks she has everything figured out, setting her sights on a dream job with “the finest publishing house in all of L.A.” So confident is she that everything will go her way that Ryden submits an application for a posh apartment, only to see her plans go pear-shaped on the day of the interview: An uninsured driver broadsides her car; Jessica Bard (Catherine Reitman), school valedictorian and Ryden’s “own personal Darth Vader,” swoops in to steal the job; and she must suffer the humiliation of moving back into her childhood home.
Ah, to be young and fear nothing worse than embarrassment, which appears to be the emotion “Post Grad” is most preoccupied with, making the film seem all the more petty given the real-world job crisis. Whether it’s having the entire family barge in during a make-out session with the Brazilian hunk next door (Rodrigo Santoro) or being spotted by friends while wearing a bellhop uniform at a dead-end mall job, Ryden’s constantly finding herself in uncomfortable situations.
Bledel (“Gilmore Girls”) has just the face for it, too, with her big blue eyes and baby-doll features giving the character a pouty, brink-of-tears look throughout, but director Vicky Jenson (veteran of such animated pics as “Shrek” and “Shark Tale”) seems behind the curve of live-action comedy. While properties like “The Office” and “I Love You, Man” have elevated wince-inducing schadenfreude to a veritable art form in recent years, Jenson’s still trying to milk laughs from gags involving cat poop and garden gnomes.
Sitting on the sidelines of Ryden’s coming-of-age adventure is best friend Adam (“Friday Night Lights” star Zach Gilford, emphasizing his emo side), who patiently waits for her to come around and think of him in romantic terms. The subplot plays out like so many of the film’s jokes, tipping its hand to the outcome while the setup is still unfolding, thereby robbing the movie of any suspense that would normally accompany the missteps in their relationship.
Auds should be rooting for the couple to get together, but instead, Ryden’s woe-is-me attitude underscores the question why, of the 1.5 million or so college students who graduate each year, she’s so deserving of the perfect job and hopelessly devoted man, much less her own movie. It’s telling that “Post Grad’s” emotional climax shifts its attention away from Ryden to her younger brother, Hunter (Bobby Coleman), in a scene that evokes “Little Miss Sunshine’s” striptease dance finale.
A generous budget gives “Post Grad” a polished if rather uninspired look — certainly less distinctive than the hipster pics generated across the lot at Fox Searchlight.