Bart Got a Room
Film Length: 79 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 (enhanced for 16:9)
Audio: English DD 5.1
Subtitles: English SDH; Spanish
Theatrical Release Date: April 3, 2009 (but see below)
DVD Release Date: July 28, 2009
In this era of fewer distributors with lower promotional budgets, DVD has become the savior of
independent film - or, depending on your point of view, its graveyard. Bart Got a Room is yet
another first feature that played well at festivals, got picked up by a small distributor, then sat on
a shelf before receiving a negligible release a year later (eleven screens at its peak). As much as
I'd like to report that the film is an undiscovered gem, it isn't. It's a promising but uneven debut,
in which some gags work and some fall flat. (Note, however, that this mix puts the film ahead of
many a studio comedy.)
Forget about Bart, because you won't see him until the end of the film. This story is about Danny
Stein (Steven Kaplan), a high school senior in Hollywood, Florida, who is trying to survive the
twin crises of finding a prom date and the divorce of his parents (Cheryl Hines and William H.
Macy, who is the comic highlight of the film). The two crises overlap, because Danny has to
endure the indignity of watching his parents reenter the dating scene and suffer through advice on
women not only from his clueless father, but also from his mother's new boyfriend (the always
delightfully off-kilter Jon Polito).
Everyone assumes that Danny will ask his long-time platonic friend, Camille (Alia Shawkat), to
the prom, but Danny has other ideas. His fancies linger over the pretty blond sophomore, Alice
(Ashley Benson), whom he's been driving to and from school all year, or Camille's hot younger
sister, Brittney (Tyler O'Campo), or some as yet undiscovered soul mate in class, or even some
wild woman dug up by his boorish buddy Craig (Brandon Hardesty) - in short, anyone but
Camille. Despite the apparent obstacle of having no date, Danny keeps investing more money in
prom preparations (limo, tux, etc.). Throughout the film, whenever anyone expresses the slightest
hesitation about an expenditure for prom night, the single all-purpose answer is that Bart, the
geekiest senior in school, got a room at the swank hotel where the prom is being held. Even
parents crumble before the force of that example.
It gives nothing away to reveal that Danny's plans go badly awry. Probably the best sequence in
the film is when Danny interrupts his father on his latest date (an amusing cameo by Jennifer
Tilly) with a desperate plea for help. No one does hapless panic better than William H. Macy,
and the assistance that he ultimately provides as Danny's father is, let us say, unconventional.
But it ultimately leads to the film's rather sentimental resolution.
Writer-director Brian Hecker reportedly drew from his own life, and it's likely that he'll be a
good comedy director when working on material from which he has more distance. He has a nice
touch with sight gags. Some of the best moments in the film are throwaways meant strictly for
the audience: a white crane that keeps reappearing by the side of the road, a date of Danny's
father who makes a panicked escape seen only by the audience, an elderly neighbor who arrives
to welcome the father to his new apartment just as Mr. Stein is testing whether the sounds of sex
can be heard through the walls. And when the famous Bart finally appears, there's a decent pay-off.
Where Hecker loses the thread is in many of the scenes between key characters, because he
tries to shift gears and play the scenes for their emotional weight. That kind of balance is a
difficult one, and it requires a level of skill and experience from all concerned that Bart Got a
Room simply doesn't have. (Think of the combination of talents it took to make When Harry Met
The DVD image is reasonably detailed, bright and colorful, as befits the Florida locale. In many
scenes, there is a noticeable amount of noise in brightly colored areas, which may be indicative
of the source material. (I did not see the film theatrically.) I did not find it distracting. Also, I did
not see any indication of DNR or edge enhancement.
The DD 5.1 mix is unusually subtle in its treatment of the music, which, in the first half of the
film, frequently transitions between "real" sound in the present and a recorded big band sound of
the past. (A scene in which Danny plays the trumpet for his mother and her boyfriend is a good
example.) In the scene where Danny approaches the prom, the score is all-enveloping, with a nice
boost from the LFE channel. Otherwise, the mix focuses on dialogue, with occasional ambient
sounds. It's an effective mix for a comedy and a more sophisticated one than is usually found in
films with a low budget.
Pop-up Production Notebook. Switch it on, and balloons pop up with various facts about the
film throughout your viewing. I confess that I am not a fan of this sort of feature, especially
when, as here, each balloon is accompanied by an audible popping sound, which I couldn't find a
way to turn off. As a result, I didn't make it very far through the notebook. As far as I got, the
material was interesting, e.g., that the font used for the titles was intended as a subtle tribute to
Trailers. The film's trailer is included. Selectable from the special features menu are trailers for
While She Was Out, Sex and Death 101, The Grand, Hollywood Residential and Surfer, Dude.
Also included on the disc upon startup (and skippable via the menu button) are previews for the
Starz series Crash, as well as the films Strike (starring Tara Reid), The Education of Charlie
Banks and Table for Three (starring Brandon Routh of Superman Returns).
Some day, the writer-director (or possibly the star) of Bart Got a Room may do something
noteworthy and successful, and people will ask, "What else has he done?" When that happens,
this DVD will suddenly be in demand. Until then, I suspect its chief audience will be academics
tracing the course of the high school comedy since John Hughes. And, of course, charter
members of the William H. Macy fan club.
Equipment used for this review:
Denon 955 DVD player
Samsung HL-T7288W DLP display
Sunfire Cinema Grand amplifier
Monitor Audio floor-standing fronts and MA FX-2 rears
Boston Accoustics VR-MC center
Velodyne HGS-10 sub