There isn’t much to “Post Grad,” a feature-length sitcom about a young woman who returns to live with her parents when her college degree in English fails to win her the job in publishing she’s always dreamt of. But like something a broadcast network might program in half-hour installments, it’s inoffensive, mildly amusing in spots, and pockmarked with moments of schmaltzy sentimentality meant to pass for depth. It’s so much akin to ordinary TV fare, in fact, that you might just as well wait to watch it on your home screen, where it will be available before long one way or another.
Alexis Bledel, a pretty young thing who tends to overplay the perkiness, is Ryden Malby, whom we meet on her graduation day from the University of California. As she tells us in the inevitable Internet posting, she’s successfully planned out her life from an early age, and is now about to interview for her dream job with a prestigious publisher (one of the script’s many unrealistic aspects is the plushness of the firm in an age when the industry is on the ropes). Unfortunately the position is won instead by her long-time arch-rival (and class valedictorian) Jessica Bard, a snooty, arrogant sort played stridently by Catherine Reitman (whose father Ivan produced). Even boyishly handsome long-time pal Adam Davies (Zach Gilford, pleasant but bland)–who’s not only been infatuated with Ryden forever and is now torn between following his own dream to become a musician or accepting a spot at Columbia law school (what we hear of his singing suggests he’d be wise to choose the further education)—can’t get her out of the doldrums.
Ryden’s even more depressed by the necessity of returning home to stay with her predictably colorful family. Dad Walter (Michael Keaton, whom director Vicky Jenson has apparently encouraged to parade his entire repertoire of winks, weird faces and physical shtick without restraint) is an incessant dreamer, an oddball luggage-store manager always on the lookout for a score. His mother Maureen (Carol Burnett, chewing the scenery at every turn), who lives with the clan, is a tart-tongued, flamboyant biddy who spends much of her time talking about her impending demise and trying out coffins for fun. Little brother Hunter (Bobby Coleman, mugging ferociously) is a peculiar kid whose longing to win a boxcar race will be one of the many predictable climaxes in the last act (naturally, grandma’s casket will also be involved). Only mom Carmella (Jane Lynch, tediously level-headed) keeps some degree of order in the household.
The script by Kelly Fremon tosses all sorts of plot threads into the mix, each one resembling something than might have anchored a single sitcom episode. Alexis has a fling with handsome Brazilian neighbor David Santiago (Rodrigo Santoro), an infomercial director (cue a sequence in which he insults his employer pro tem, the maker of a guacamole-producing machine played by Dmitri Martin, over ideas for the commercial)—which causes her to miss Adam’s on-stage debut and threatens their friendship. Walter runs over David’s cat backing out of their driveway. He also gets involved with a scheme to sell custom-produced belt buckles, which lands him in the hoosegow.
Then there’s the whole boxcar business, which ends (like the jailhouse subplot), with the clan enthusiastically proclaiming their family’s uniqueness with shouts of “We’re the Malbys!” (one almost expects them to call themselves the Griswolds, since the whole bit is so reminiscent of the National Lampoon Vacation pictures—a comparison that’s especially unfortunate if view of John Hughes’s recent death). And, of course, there’s the big resolution when Ryden must choose between the job she’s always wanted (though from the way it’s eventually portrayed you wonder why anybody would want it at all) and what she finally realizes is True Love. (As if the filmmakers didn’t trust the audience to get the message on their own, they actually feel compelled to tell you directly that what you do in your life isn’t as important as whom you do it with!)
Given the nation’s current economic climate and the dire financial circumstances faced by most college graduates during an era of high unemployment, one can imagine a biting satire being built on the idea of a young woman’s retreat back to her parents’ house. But “Post Grad” studiously avoids reality in favor of fairy-tale fluffiness (it’s characteristic that the whole student loan morass is brushed off with the comment that Ryden sailed through college on scholarship and emerges fiscally unencumbered). And even on that pallid level, it opts for pure predictability over the slightest hint of imagination or risk-taking. As utterly ordinary technically as it is in content and execution, this is the kind of slight, vacuous comedy that evaporates long before it completes its tedious circuit to a foreordained happy ending.