3/7/2013 - A young pre-med student takes full advantage of being legal to drink in 21 & Over, one of those one-crazy-night movies from, not surprisingly, writers of The Hangover.
Jeff Chang (Justin Chon) — or, as his friends call him, “JeffChang” — is celebrating his 21st birthday with a lecture from his dad (Francois Chau) about why the following morning’s interview with a med school is so important. But high school buddies Miller (Miles Teller) and Casey (Skylar Astin) have just shown up to surprise him with a night on the town carousing. Casey, being mature and responsible, agrees that they can just go out for one beer but when we see JeffChang having shots poured directly into his mouth later in the evening, it appears that all-id Miller has won. And thus begins a night of wacky drinking antics: JeffChang and Miller have a run-in with some frat guys who keep appearing throughout the night, Casey attempts to hit on free-spirit girl Nicole (Sarah Wright) and, after JeffChang drinks himself into a stupor, Miller and Casey trudge hither and thither trying to figure out where his apartment is so they can get him to bed to rest up for his morning interview.
I hated the first 10 minutes of this movie — “ugh” is how I felt listening to Miller’s “edgy” patter about Casey’s teenage sister and the academic prowess of Asian kids and how drunk they are going to get that night and on and on with his oily mix of a poor man’s Zach Galafianakis, a bad John Belushi impression and just a little Bill Murray circa Stripes. But somewhere between Casey’s smooth-awkward attempts to hit on Nicole and the genuine concern that Casey and Miller start to show for their friend, this movie sort of a little bit won me over, by which I mean I was able to relax and not white-knuckle hate it. Beneath all the “woo-hoo, let’s drink” stuff, there are some actual interesting things going on about the transition from the responsibility-free hedonism that is some people’s college experience to the buckle-down real world. And the movie does a pretty good job of examining the idea of how friendships can change over time — your bestest besties from high school might seem like just distant acquaintances after the separation of four years of college. (A situation that then repeats itself with the people you saw daily during four years of college.) The friendships you have between ages 14 and 22 are intense but often short-lived, which can be sad and strange and scary and makes for moments of actual emotion amid all the dude-ness.
Helping this script along in its journey from total cliche to cliche with humanity are the actors, who all have some amount of likeability to them. Astin seems to specialize in a sort of snarky earnestness (his character here is similar in tone and adorkableness to the one in Pitch Perfect). Teller might be trying to hard too hit the notes sung by loud-dudes of college comedies past, but somewhere in there we see glints of a real person. And while the JeffChang character is frequently more prop than person (not unlike the groom in the first Hangover movie or Rebel Wilson’s dress in Bachelorette), he also gets a little something to do here and there as a kid who doesn’t have his life as together as first it appears.
21 & Over is probably officially Part of the Problem when it comes to media portrayals of binge-drinking and general jerkishness. But its surprising moments of heart save it from complete worthlessness. C+
Rated R for, like, everything a movie can be rated R for: for crude and sexual content, pervasive language, some graphic nudity, drugs and drinking. Written and directed by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, 21 & Over is an hour and 33 minutes long and is distributed by Relativity Media.