With Victoria Justice, Chelsea Handler, Thomas Mann, Jackson Nicoll, Thomas Middleditch. Written by Max Werner. Directed by Josh Schwartz. Rated PG-13 for crude and suggestive material, partying and language. 90 minutes.
Nickelodeon Movies heads into PG-13 territory – for the first time for a U.S. production – with FUN SIZE. What that means is that we’re in the 12-15/middle school age range, and not something for the “Blue’s Clues” or “Dora the Explorer” crowd. Parents, take note.
It’s Halloween and Wren (Victoria Justice) is planning to dress as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg for Halloween while she applies to NYU for college. Her best friend, April (Jane Levy), thinks it’s more important that she go to the party held by Aaron (Thomas McDonell) the coolest kid in school. However, her hot widowed mom (Chelsea Handler), who’s dating a guy in his twenties, has her own plans and expects Wren to tend to her weird brother Albert (Jackson Nicoll). Meanwhile, the earnest-but-nerdy Roosevelt (Thomas Mann) hopes that Wren will notice him. That gives you some idea of the set-ups for the complications that ensue, although there’s much more.
If your ‘tweens and young teens are into the teen offerings on Nickelodeon and Disney then they’ll enjoy this, but there is stuff that parents may find surprising and even disturbing. It’s clear that Mom is having sex with Keevin (Josh Pence), and that the twenty-somethings are drinking and probably getting high. There are numerous crude jokes, and April convinces Roosevelt’s nerdy friend Peng (Osric Chau) to help out by letting him feeling her breasts. As PG-13 material, this is pretty mild, but as it is a Nickelodeon production one wonders whether the film will survive intact when in it inevitably appears on the cable channel.
For example, there’s a twenty-something named Fuzzy (Thomas Middleditch) who works in a convenience store and befriends Albert, who has eluded Wren. When he asks for Albert’s help in playing a prank on an ex-girlfriend, even he seems to get that there’s something creepy about an adult trying to entice a young child he’s just met to get into his car. Fuzzy turns out to be as sweet and innocent as his name suggests, but when was the last time you saw a joke on Nickelodeon that hinged on a character possibly being a child molester?
That’s the problem with “Fun Size.” In many ways it’s the zany look at adolescence that one expects from their ‘tween- and teen-oriented shows. We suspect with whom Wren will end up with even if April and others are convinced she needs to go with the hottie. Strange adults turn out to be safe and good, with one notable exception who has to be outwitted by Albert and Fuzzy. Mom is a bit of a ditz but she eventually sees that her daughter is much more mature than she is and does the right thing. Yet much is also lowbrow and questionable, from Albert’s bratty behavior to the party at Keevin’s friend’s house where someone pours liquor down Mom’s throat against her will. It’s not so much that such material is not appropriate to be seen in a movie – although do we really need it? – as it raises the question whether this is appropriate for its target age group.
Wren and her friends are high school seniors meaning that the audience is likely to be much younger. The offerings on Nickelodeon and Disney suggest a certainly level of wholesomeness, even while playing to the sensibilities of younger viewers. That is not the case here. “Fun Size” isn’t terrible, but it does seem a serious miscalculation as to how to best serve their target demographic.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His first novel, Shh! It’s A Secret: A Novel About Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide will be released in January 2013. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.