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Special K

October 21, 2010 By:
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Rittenhouse Squares? More cool than anything: Peter Serafinowicz (left) and Neil Patrick Harris flank Amy Sedaris (second from left) and Bonnie Somerville.

I have a 2-year-old, and damned if I'm going to let Neil Patrick Harris and Bonnie Somerville snap up the last space in preschool for their kid.

Oh. Wait.

I have to tell myself: It's only a movie.

It's only a movie.

But "The Best and the Brightest" may be the funniest in quite some time, with its focus on the not-so-much upwardly mobile as stuck-in-sideways-suspension couple moving from Delaware to New York, knowing that if they can make it there they can make it anywhere and, if not, back to the cliffs of Dover from whence they came.

They face not so much a glass ceiling as flaked plaster walls in their sub-bohemian apartment with claustrophobic cubicles encroaching on their every small step.

But, more than anything, they need to enroll their cutie pie into a school where the pie has already been sliced for students from mothers enlisting their still-in-vitro progeny for cut-throat kindergarten.

The movie, directed and co-written by the happening, hip director Josh Shelov, gives a shellacking to education/pretension and the notion that the rich are just like you and me -- except for BMW egos and 401(k) accounts so huge that they're threatening to burst into 402(ks), with their heirs sporting supercilious airs that can mistake dimwit for wit.

Nothing is as it seems in the world of the wacky rich and regressive -- even the movie itself, shot in Philadelphia but labeled (and how these characters love labels) as New York, subbing delightful Center City for Greenwich Village veneers. Even Rittenhouse Square is a super surrogate for what appears to be Washington Square.

But park your complaints elsewhere: The giddiness in this giddy-up of a fun fine movie, playing Oct. 24 at the Philadelphia Film Festival, is in its fanciful fandango of phoniness served on a silver-plated platter.

In trying to nab a coveted class space for their child, Jeff (Harris) and Sam (Somerville) come across a New York ninja (Amy Sedaris), a woman who earns her keep -- and keeps audiences laughing -- by filling impossibly small spaces with inarguably huge requests that children be accepted by schools so stubbornly sanctimonious about pedigree, they leave docking space available for anyone arriving by Mayflower.

In balancing the laughable early-school set scene of competitive kids and their more feral folks, as well as the high and mighty -- especially the high-falutin' high -- the film lodges some scholastic sallies that say more about the parents, pricking them at their most pretentious.

Nowhere is this better than in the butter-up-the-school-board scene in which Jeff poses as a poet, whose ersatz e.e.cummings come-on is actually a sextext of iambic pentameter, pent-up with sexual upheaval and down-and-dirty details of a lost libido -- more about illicit coupling than rhyme couplets.

Yet it is poetry to the board's ears, who mistake raunch for royal bearing.

But not before Jeff and Sam offer an invitation that pulls the welcome mat out from under the stuffy and stodgy. Passing himself off as the poet, Jeff plans a book-club meeting in which the couple plucks a title off the shelf as bait to book-end their ambition and ambivalence about their deception.

Luring the board in with the prospect that their guests can get gussied up while parading their pseudo-intellectual savoir-faire, Jeff and Sam choose purposefully (and, pointedly, this is a key element of the movie's Mach 1 mockery of self-importance) a ludicrously titled O Holocaust! My Holocaust! as their enticement.

After all, how much more sophisticated a set-up than reviewing Holocaust literature among like-minded clueless colleagues who can nod in agreement about life's horrors before nodding off?

It is a revealing riff by writer Shelov, showcasing his devilish Jewish sense of humor that impales the gathered self-righteous and intellectually inbred with a pitiful gold-encrusted petard.

Points taken, powerful punches aplenty; in many ways, "The Best and the Brightest" brilliantly pokes and pummels with the force of a masterful farce.

Now, Harris and Somerville, about that last space in class ... 

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