Two Releases from New Video
The Best and the Brightest (October 2/11)
The Best and the Brightest follows Wyoming-based couple Jeff (Neil Patrick Harris) and Samantha (Bonnie Somerville) as they move to New York City and immediately attempt to get their young daughter into a private-school kindergarten class, with the couple's decision to hire a specialized consultant (Amy Sedaris' Sue Lemon) triggering a series of wacky misunderstandings and mixups. It's a rather faulty premise - why can't they just send the kid to a public school? - that's employed to consistently underwhelming effect by filmmaker Josh Shelov, which is a shame, really, given that the film opens with some promise. Shelov, along with cowriter Michael Jaeger, does a nice job of initially transforming the two central characters into tremendously likable figures, with the strong work from Harris and Somerville perpetuating the movie's affable atmosphere. (It certainly doesn't hurt, either, that Shelov offers up a genuinely hilarious early scene in which Jeff is forced to pass off an x-rated chat transcript as poetry.) As time progresses, however, The Best and the Brightest begins to adopt an increasingly desperate, disastrously unfunny sort of vibe, with Shelov's emphasis on farcical elements resulting in a number of unreasonably over-the-top comedic set pieces (eg a routine book-club meeting goes completely off the rails). The inclusion of a silly yet humorous climax comes far too late to make any real impact, and it's finally impossible to label The Best and the Brightest as anything more than a sporadically amusing misfire.
Fly Away (October 17/11)
Written and directed by Janet Grillo, Fly Away details the day-to-day exploits of a single mother (Beth Broderick's Jeanne) and her severely autistic teenage daughter (Ashley Rickards' Mandy) - with the film, for the most part, following Jeanne as she attempts to balance her daughter's care with her freelance job and virtually non-existent personal life. It's a low-key premise that's employed to strong effect by Grillo, as the filmmaker does a nice job of establishing and sustaining an atmosphere of palpable authenticity. The believable vibe is heightened by the uniformly stellar work of the various actors, with Broderick's solid turn as Mandy's exhausted mother matched (and often exceeded) by Rickard's spellbinding performance (ie the actress becomes her troubled character to a degree that's nothing short of astonishing). There's little doubt, however, that the relentlessly grim nature of the movie's subject matter does, perhaps inevitably, wear the viewer down, and although Grillo certainly captures the frustration of raising a severely autistic child, Fly Away's overall success is hampered by its narrow focus and relatively uneventful storyline - although, having said that, it's hard to deny the emotional impact of the movie's unexpectedly uplifting finale.