When a movie’s on-screen explanation about what happens to the characters after it ends contains a typo (“aide” instead of “aid”), we get some idea of why it seems that so little attention was paid to other details like story and character.
The sad thing is that somewhere inside this mess of a movie are a couple of characters we like. “American Pie” alums Jason Biggs and Mena Suvari play Paul and Dora, freshmen at NYU. We see right away what a sweetheart Paul is, at his family’s party celebrating his scholarship. Paul dances with his little sister and slips the money his grandfather urges on him back into his grandfather’s own pocket. And we see right away how nice Dora is, putting ice on Paul’s knee when he falls down the classroom steps. Biggs and Suvari are very appealing and make a great couple. We settle back, waiting for them to find out what we already know, that they’re perfect for each other.
Unfortunately, it’s a frustrating and annoying hour and a half until we get there. The other characters are all tedious and the plot developments are either lame “but I thought”-type misunderstandings or lamer lifts from better movies. Paul has three interchangable and odious roommates who think of college as a four-year party. Dora is desperate for money, so she takes a job as a waitress in a strip club, sleeps in Grand Central Station (after paying a homeless woman to tell her mother that she is sleeping in a dorm). And she’s having an affair with a selfish and egotistical professor (Greg Kinnear).
As the typo indicates, the movie has an unfinished quality, as though someone was trying to create structure through editing that was not there in the script. There are several unnecessary cameos (David Spade, Andy Dick, Everclear) that seem to have been thrown in as an effort to pick things up. A lot of the plot twists and details are so dumb or unbelievable, even within the context of romantic comedy, that they are just distracting. Why would Paul agree to a second party when the first one was such a disaster? Why would he and Dora believe what people they know to be unreliable tell them about each other? Characters do things for the sake of the plot that are completely inconsistent with the rest of their behavior. Some things just make no sense at all. If the whole movie is supposed to take place in the first semester (at the end of the movie they are making plans for Thanksgiving) then Paul wears that thick wool hat when it isn’t even cold out? When did Dora have time to meet and start an affair with the professor? It seems to be well underway when school starts.
Parents should know that the movie has a casual attitude toward drinking and drug use. Paul’s roommates spike girls’ drinks with the “date rape drug,” which is treated as little more than a regrettable prank. Despite the fact that integrity is a key aspect of Paul’s character, Paul and Dora casually steal bread, coffee, and theater seats, and this is portayed as clever and charming. Students also blackmail a professor into giving them good grades.
Families who see this movie should talk about how Paul and Dora evaluate their choices. Why does Paul go along with his ex-roommates’ party plan? Why does he care what they think of him? Why is Dora so wrong about the professor? How do people make friends in college? Paul’s father (Dan Ackroyd) gives him some very good advice, and another of the movie’s many frustrations is waiting for that to be important later in the movie.
People who want to see a better movie about this stage of life should see “Breaking Away” or the syrupy blockbuster “Love Story.”