This sounds like a canny piece of counterprogramming. Every year, the movie studios pollute October with another grim batch of horror sequels about ghosts, demons, and slashers. So why not go the other way and put out a Halloween-themed comedy? That’s the thinking behind Fun Size, which boasts a popular kids’ TV star headlining a more mature, PG-13-rated movie and marks the filmmaking debut of a successful TV show creator. I don’t mind saying I was intrigued going into this. I was much less so when I came out.
High-school senior Wren DeSantis (Victoria Justice) has had a rough year, but it suddenly brightens when a dreamy guy from her class (Thomas McDonell) invites her to his big Halloween party. Come Oct. 31, she’s in costume and on her way out the door when her mom (Chelsea Handler) peremptorily announces that she’s going to a Halloween party of her own and sticks Wren with the job of watching her 8-year-old brother Albert (Jackson Nicoll). The boy then runs off while trick-or-treating, kicking off a frantic night of searching by Wren, her best friend April (Jane Levy), and two nerdy boys (Thomas Mann and Osric Chau) who have crushes on the girls and, more importantly, access to a car.
Farce leans heavily on plot construction, and Max Werner’s script is fairly well put together. A lost child threatens to inject off notes of pathos in this comedy, but the script makes Albert into a funny presence, a willful boy who says nothing for most of the movie. (It also helps that Albert’s face is often hidden by his Spider-Man costume.) Early on, Albert is supervised by a convenience store clerk (Thomas Middleditch) who’s obsessed with a fictitious comic-book superheroine; much later, Albert is taken in by a girl dressed as that same superheroine (Riki Lindhome). First-time director Josh Schwartz (the creator of Gossip Girl and The O.C.) does a decent job with the physical aspects of the comedy, including a nice gag with a giant mechanical chicken falling on top of a car.
For all this, though, the punchlines miss far more often than they land, and the romantic subplots have no chemistry. The recent death of Wren’s dad is supposed to account for acting out by Albert, April, and Wren’s mom, but it doesn’t bring this comedy the serious note that it’s supposed to, even if it leads to a nice monologue by Handler as her character answers an innocuous question about her kids by spilling all her issues. That aside, the actors here don’t contribute much. Justice, the star of Victorious, has a striking pair of brown eyes, but she doesn’t do anything interesting with the role.
It’s too bad, really. We could use a good movie that treats Halloween in a way that matches most people’s experience with the holiday. All in all, Fun Size isn’t just another failed comedy. It’s a blown opportunity.
Starring Victoria Justice, Thomas Mann, and Jane Levy. Directed by Josh Schwartz. Written by Max Werner. Rated PG-13.