After returning home from a screening of the dramedy “Post Grad,” I was quite surprised to learn that the film wasn’t based on a book or a television series. It was just a screenplay, credited to Kelly Fremon, which makes the distracted, overstuffed narrative all the more confusing. 1/3 post-collegiate woe, 1/3 wacky family suburban comedy, and 1/3 tepid romantic yearn, “Post Grad” hopes to be many things to many different audiences. It’s a meandering mess of a motion picture, enlivened by a few performances, but ultimately, and quite aggressively, ineffectual and dreary.
Ryden Malby (Alexis Bledel, “Gilmore Girls”) is finishing up her college years, ready to take on the business world with a sure-thing job at a high-profile publishing firm, backed by support from her dear friend, Adam (Zach Gilford, “Friday Night Lights”). When the gig falls through, Ryden is forced to move back in with her family (including Michael Keaton, Jane Lynch, and Carol Burnett), starting a job hunt that continually proves fruitless. Falling under the spell of her Brazilian neighbor David (Rodrigo Santoro), Ryden’s heart is clouded in doubt, a situation amplified when Adam prepares to leave for law school.
In 90 minutes of screen time, “Post Grad” takes on a substantial amount of emotional baggage. The picture handles exactly like a sloppy, corner-cutting novel-to-screen adaption, with filmmaker Vicky Jenson (making her live-action debut after co-directing “Shark Tale” and “Shrek”) cramming in as much plot as possible to feel out a three-dimensional world for Ryden as she surfs the disappointments of life. As characters are introduced and Ryden’s personality is established, “Post Grad” actually comes off as a frothy jumble of twentysomething insight, executing believable panic (buttressed by extensive Eskimo Pie plugs) as our hero faces a cold world of unemployment and domestic resignation. Jenson even gets Adam to a secure level of ache that meshes well with Ryden’s self-absorption.
Once matters solidify at home and Ryden finds her nether region burning for David immediately upon introduction, “Post Grads” falls apart. Not even discreetly, it just crumbles. Part of the blame is found with Jenson, who juggles too many subplots, hoping to lend Ryden continuous motivation through her vaguely supportive family. It’s one thing to have the characters revolving around Ryden, but “Post Grad” goes so far as to track their own triumphs and humiliations. Will anyone really care to follow the arrest of Ryden’s father for receiving stolen merchandise? To watch her kid brother compete in a soapbox derby race? It’s shocking to find “Post Grad” often shoving aside the titular character to waste time elsewhere, making for a bewildering, elongated sit.
The discomfort extends to the love triangle between Ryden, Adam, and David, which is never balanced to satisfaction. Only in a Hollywood movie would an unemployed college grad be forced to choose between a Latin lover and a dreamy emo rocker with law school aspirations. Jenson doesn’t recognize the absurdity of the situation, permitting the film to indulge its saccharine sides, cringingly sold by blank slate Santoro and method man Gilford, who goes all Gosling on the role in the second half, making for some choice moments of acting-class brood that further dilute the appeal of the movie.
Also of some disgust is the film’s ultimate message that Ryden must choose a boyfriend over her professional dreams. Two women steering this picture, and they lurch for a nitwit fairy tale ending that nullifies Ryden’s educational and personal accomplishments. Who needs enriching, sustaining professional aspirations and when boys are around? Rory Gilmore would never stand for this.
Michael Keaton is allowed an opening to do his Michael Keaton impression, offering the only laughs of the picture. I also have faith in Bledel as a leading actress. She does the best she can do with a film that barely makes time for her. “Post Grad” wastes her efforts and a juicy concept that held the ideal urgency to speak to a generation disillusioned; a pack irritated with a system that sold them a future, but failed to reinforce the workplace reality. Instead, we’re served mushy romantic comedy leftovers, emerging from a plump script that should’ve been whittled down to a manageable size before cameras rolled.