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Creative team Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage made their name in TV with likable dissertations on the nerd in ascension (The O.C., Chuck, Gossip Girl). Fun Size – Schwartz’s feature directorial debut, with a script by The Colbert Report staff writer Max Werner – could be filed under “related materials.”
High school senior Wren (Victoria Justice, of the Nickelodeon show Victorious) just wants to forget her troubles at home, where her mom (Chelsea Handler) has gone a little off her rocker because of the recent death of Wren’s dad, and her 8-year-old brother Albert (Nicoll) has responded by turning into a mute hellraiser. But Wren’s plans for unwinding at a Halloween party are derailed by a last-minute babysitting detail, and the straightforwardness of that task is further derailed when Albert goes missing. From there, the narrative, following the one-night-gone-awry schematic, splits into three tracks, charting Mom’s reckoning with her grief, chaos-magnet Albert’s wild night, and Wren’s efforts to reclaim Albert, aided by her geeky but devoted friend Roosevelt (Mann).
As they say, hijinks ensue, although they are of a rather gentle order, as befits a Nickelodeon film that, perhaps inadvisedly, deep-lunges to accommodate the concerns of a middle-aged single mom, a teenager, and a larcenous little boy. The one-size-fits-all mentality – wherein mom’s raw grief is shoehorned into the same space as Albert’s flaming dog-poo antics – dulls the intriguing jagged edges built into the premise and burbling in the actors: Young Nicoll, for instance, wears existential weariness and barely corked rage as easily as he does his Spidey costume. Imagine Little Miss Sunshine’s dark materials (and superior craftsmanship) diluted with a Hannah Montana-like sunny silliness – which is to say: sometimes funny, often broad-stroked, ever sweet, and landing shy of its potential. It could’ve been worse; kid-aimed entertainment can only be bettered by treating nerd-dom and decency as high values.