Devon Werkheiser - World Premiere screening for documentary 'Unity' at Director's Guild of America - Arrivals at Director's Guild of America - Los Angeles, California, United States - Wednesday 24th June 2015
While this comedy of embarrassment has some pointed things to say about growing up, and a refreshing refusal to push its central character into a box, it also continually resorts to the cheapest, most annoying gags. As a result, the intriguing premise is swamped in corny antics, forcing the actors to work overtime to keep their characters on the right side of believability. This leaves everyone on-screen feeling more than a little artificial, including the characters who manage to be engaging.
The central figure is Lloyd (Jason Dolley), a 17-year-old who hasn't yet discovered what his "thing" is. He's brainy enough to get into any university he wants, but is unsure what he wants to do with his life. And he has been so busy getting good grades that he has never explored his own sexuality. Not helping this is his over-involved mother Maggie (Nia Vardalos), who hovers around him like a police helicopter with a floodlight, meddling in every aspect of his life. Mainly she's hoping he turns out to be gay, because that will entitle him to a scholarship to pay the expensive university tuition fees. So she tries to hook him up with random young men and asks his biker-dude dad Max (Mark Boone Junior) to encourage him in that direction. But Max actually engages Lloyd in a conversation, something his mother never does.
The problem is that for all of Maggie's protestations that she loves her son, she clearly only cares about herself. And this intense selfishness makes her so loathsome that we flinch every time she appears on screen, just as Lloyd does when he notices her nearby. Vardalos underplays the role nicely, but it's not enough to make her remotely sympathetic as everything she does leaves a wake of destruction. In other words, she's more like a shallow sitcom character than a real person. By contrast, Dolley is remarkably likeable, and the film's best scenes are between him and the relaxed, open-handed Boone. And Dolley also generates a nice sense of chemistry with Skyler Samuels, as the school hottie who's tired of hanging out with bigoted jocks.
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