If the modern raunchy teen comedy is dead, The Re-Education of Molly Singer may not resurrect it. But it does at least remind us that they did once exist.
Sure, the days of Old School, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, and American Pie once dominated the box office, but that was in the 2000s. Comedies of this type still get made but rarely with the type of ballast and buzz they did in the days of yore.
And there’s a certain awkwardness to Molly Singer, both the character and the film she inhabits, that harkens back to the films of Chris Farley and Adam Sandler. Molly (Britt Robertson) has a great job. She’s a high-powered attorney representing rich and powerful clients. But she’s also a bit of a bar-hopping ne’er-do-well — as likely to, say, spend the night before a big court case hammering shots and stumbling home around sunrise as she is to get into the courtroom on time.
And Robertson is certainly no Sandler. Or Will Ferrell. Or Julia Roberts. Or Cameron Diaz, or whomever else you want to plug in to that role. That’s not to say Robertson doesn’t have her own charms; on the contrary, there is something really likable about her in that not-really-sure-what-it-is kind of way. As in most of her films I’ve seen, I wanted to like her more than I actually did. She’s pleasant enough, with a face you want to like and trust, but she seems to be missing something.
This, of course, begs the question (as one perplexed judge asks in this film) just who they’re giving law degrees to these days because most people don’t get to be a lawyer without learning how to avoid those pitfalls.
However, this is all beside the point because it’s mostly backstory for the main plot. Molly gets fired from her job when she torpedoes an important case. But her boss, Brenda (Jaime Pressly, trying hard not to look like she’s phoning it in), hires her for a … much more important job?
That job is to babysit her even more awkward son, Elliott (Ty Simpkins), whose already reluctant college experience gets off to a bad start when he accidentally injures a star football player. Brenda hires Molly to enroll in college in order to befriend Elliott, help him get his feet under him, unleash his inner cool and, with any luck, embark upon a career that culminates in a Senate seat (don’t ask).
If “cool hottie gets hired to make a mousy loser become cool” sounds vaguely familiar, I’d recommend checking out Jennifer Lawrence’s No Hard Feelings, which has a suspiciously similar synopsis. Does one of these films rip off the other? Hard to say in Hollywood, but here we are.
But Molly Singer doesn’t get much leeway since there are also very familiar echoes of films like Billy Madison and the aforementioned American Pie films, as well as time-tested tropes from comedies from eons ago — from the flamboyantly gay best friend Ollie (Nico Santos) to the conveniently placed rival from the past to the quirky neighbor (Wendie Malick, who unfortunately only gets one scene and then vanishes until the end-credits cut scenes).
Don’t forget the douchebag frat-boy dudebro Stu (Zach Scheerer), who is dating Lindsay (Cierra Ramirez), Elliott’s neighbor and object of his own creepy affections. Lindsay shares Elliott’s love of MMA, giving them a bit of a meet-cute, but the brawny Stu is too much competition for Elliott to have a chance with her. Or does he?
There are a few mildly to moderately entertaining sequences. A bit where Molly and Ollie run into a staunchly conservative housing representative elicits a chuckle, and each of the main players has a moment or two.
But the script by Todd M. Friedman and Kevin Haskin just doesn’t hit the high notes required. The film is full of odd references, with some contemporary conservative cuck jokes, but also lines referring to Imelda Marcos, Happy Days, the 1970s Incredible Hulk TV series, and, maybe most puzzling, the 2005 Jake Gyllenhaal film Jarhead, a film that would have come out when the character referencing it would have been a toddler.
This, combined with jokes that often don’t quite land, and the general unbelievability of the story creates an odd lack of symmetry that prevents the film from rising to anything more than a mild amusement.
There is certainly some comedic talent at work here, and some young talent too, but these characters are just a little too broad and lack just a bit too much chemistry and magnetism to become memorable. The screenplay peters out around the beginning of the third act, creating a puzzling setup scene that jumps out of nowhere, doesn’t really connect with the overall story and creates conflict between Molly and Elliott while amping up the fight with their respective rivals, slathering on the artifice with a paint brush.
Molly Singer is not a wholly bad movie. If you squint, you might see the shadows of much better comedies of the past. But instead of satiating your nostalgia, you’ll probably find yourself wishing you were watching one of those instead.