The roots of Accepted, the new comedy film directed by Steve Pink and starring Justin Long, Jonah Hill, Blake Lively, Maria Thayer and Lewis Black, can be found in Animal House, Revenge of the Nerds and a skit from Saturday Night Live on the subject of not getting into any college.
That is exactly what happens to “Bartleby Gaines” (Long), who applied to eight different colleges and was rejected by all of them, including his “safety” school. The fact that his grades were not great and his reputation as a discipline problem probably had a lot to do with all those rejections. The subject of his application essay was also not the wisest of choices. His parents are horribly upset when he finally discloses that he failed to get in anywhere. He tries a nice argument about how by going to work he will earn in a year what that year of college would have cost his parents, but they don’t buy it and are convinced that his life is ruined.
In actuality, the failure of a high school senior to get into any college is not life-ruining, plenty of students go on to community colleges, transfer after two years to a traditional four year university and graduate right on-time. In fact, with budget cuts and shortages of certain classes in the California UC and Cal State system, a student taking that route may have a better chance of finishing in four rather than five years these days. But by acknowledging this alternative solution to the problem, there wouldn’t be a film. The concept of community college is only worthy of note because the implication that if a student doesn’t get directly into a four year university their life is ruined is a disservice to fine community colleges all around the nation.
But I digress. So when Bartleby is faced with parental disappointment, he decides on a new course of action. Since he did not get into any colleges, he will create one that will accept him, and he will be off the hook for the year. Exactly what he will do after that year, or for the rest of his college experience is not calculated into this plan, nor is a lot of thought given to any of the ramifications of this plan, Bartleby is just winging it. So he has his friend “Sherman” (Hill) create a website that makes it appear that there is a college that is the sister school to the prestigious college that Sherman got into and the plan is off and running.
Soon Bartleby, Sherman, “Rory” (Thayer) and “Hands” (Columbus Short), with some help from “Glen” (Adam Herschman) are retrofitting an abandoned facility into the facade of a college, in order to fool Bartleby’s parents when they drop him off for his first year. Hands and Rory are also in on the game now, Hands having lost his football scholarship due to a blown knee and Rory having made a slight miscalculation in her own college application plans.
Bartleby’s father wants to meet the dean, which means the kids need to hire Sherman’s “Uncle Ben” (Lewis Black), a former college academic currently working as a salesman in a store selling shoes for kids. Even this little test is passed and finally the kids are alone in their building and all seems calm.
Until there is a loud knock at the door and they discover that hundreds of other students have gone to the website and applied to this fictional college and been accepted. “I told you to make it legit, not functional” Bartleby says to Sherman, but the cat is out of the bag and all of these students have paid their tuition in full.
The easy thing to do would be to send them home and tell them it is just a fake, but Bartleby isn’t one for the easy way out and soon the most unusual institution of higher learning you can imagine is springing up, where students decide what they want to learn, where students are the teachers and a wild time is being had by all.
Unfortunately for Bartleby and friends, the land on which their facility sits is coveted for a gateway for their neighbor, that prestigious university where Sherman is enrolled, and its own Dean, Richard Van Horne (Anthony Heald) intends to get it. He assigns one of his favorite students, the president of Sherman’s frat the task of getting that parcel and all of the rest of the surrounding land in order to build this gateway.
First time director Pink delivers a somewhat uneven, but good film. After all, a comedy that makes one laugh is a success in and of itself, so most of its minor flaws should be overlooked. Justin Long is perfectly cast as Bartleby, perfectly named as he brings to mind that classic Melville character “Bartleby the Scrivener”, one who marched to his own cadence. That is clearly the case for Bartleby Gaines as well.
Accepted is a fun film, filled with laughs and poking fun at the ridiculous rituals and snobbery of some levels of traditional college education. It was better than expected and is well worth checking out.