Loser still trying to rectify angst-y high school days

"The Marc Pease Experience" stars Jason Schwartzman in the title role.He can't let go of high school and a vocal ensemble he founded.
"The Marc Pease Experience" stars Jason Schwartzman in the title role.He can't let go of high school and a vocal ensemble he founded.
Posted: August 21, 2009

This movie must be a family affair because there's no way Ben Stiller or Jason Schwartzman would get involved in a project this dreadful unless they were doing a favor for a relative.

The awkwardly named (and awkwardly everything else) Marc Pease Experience joins Hamlet 2 and TV's Glee as recent explorations of teenage losers straining to be performers. (Gee, do you think some Hollywood writers are trying to expiate painful periods from their own youth?)

The titular protagonist (Schwartzman) set the benchmark for high school embarrassment when he ran crying from the stage just before his big number in The Wiz.

For some reason, eight years later, Marc Pease is trying to hold on to those inglorious days, maintaining a locker at school and dating a 12th-grader (Anna Kendrick, the one bright spot in this movie). He's also still trying to win the approval of Jon Gribble (Stiller), the school's conceited and affected drama director.

Gribble is a big impresario in a small puddle, strutting and preening around like he's Bob Fosse, dropping pearls of wisdom about Theater on his eager acolytes.

Meanwhile, Pease is desperately clinging to the Meridian 8, the unaccompanied vocal ensemble he founded back in high school. But as members continue to drop out, the group's name has become rather misleading.

"Are the rest of you wholeheartedly committed to a cappella vocals?" Pease asks the sad-sack survivors.

Experience is essentially about people without a life who have brainwashed themselves into never saying die.

One of the most questionable decisions made by this film is allowing Schwartzman and Stiller to use their real singing voices (ouch!) while lip-synching the kids. And though the main cast in Gribble's new production appears age-appropriate, the supporting cast look as if they were recruited from a Vegas revue.

Faced with the script's weak humor and feeble stabs at irony, Schwartzman and Stiller turn it way up, setting the dial at "hammy."

Their climactic confrontation and Pease's obligatory redemption are pathetic and bathetic.

Consider: A bad movie about cheesy a cappella and awful musical theater. What could be more excruciating?

Contact staff writer David Hiltbrand at 215-854-4552 or dhiltbrand@phillynews.com.

Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/daveondemand.

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