By Katey Rich
Teen comedies are experiencing their own kind of highbrow resurgence, with Oscar nominations for Juno and the surprising critical success of the filthy Superbad. Now the Tribeca Film Festival is enchanted with another sex-addled teen, the gawky adolescent Danny of Bart Got A Room. The movie's writer and director Brian Hecker admits influences from the master of teen comedy, John Hughes, but insists the movie's story is not intended to be trendy, just true to life.
"It's a very personal story, so I don't think I was so calculated in my attempt to create a specific sex-themed comedy versus a more romantic-themed comedy," Hecker told me over the phone today. "I wanted to tell a personal story based on the essence of what a kid would be going through."
The similarities between Hecker and his hero Danny (Steven Kaplan) are pretty clear. Both are Jewish teenagers growing up in Hollywood, Florida, a retirement community that also hosts, as Hecker explains it, a lot of transplants from New York. Danny's parents are going through a divorce, and while mom (Cheryl Hines) is trying to introduce her new boyfriend as a potential father figure, dad (William H. Macy) is having a hard enough time figuring out how to get any woman to stick around after the first date.
Hecker admits that he based both characters on his parents, but both mom and dad are thrilled with the movie. "My relationship with my parents is very strong, [and] my experiences growing up were certainly entrenched in the world of family," Hecker explains. Both of his parents helped scout locations in Florida, and Hecker's father even met with Macy the night before filming to help the actor get a better idea of the character he was playing. "During dinner, when my dad went to the bathroom, Macy turned to me and said, 'I get it now. He's a sweet man.' "
The real plot of Bart, though, revolves around Danny's attempts to find a prom date, after his best friend since childhood Camille (Alia Shawkat, of "Arrested Development") asks him and he's convinced he can do better. Hecker admits, perhaps begrudgingly, that this part is true too. "I had these delusions of grandeur going with a sexy hot date, and of course I was unsuccessful in my quest." Kaplan, who plays Danny, was a little bit gentler to his director in an interview at the red carpet premiere of Bart last Friday. "He certainly had a very specific vision in mind on how it should play out. But the entire film wasn't autobiographical. There were parts that were exaggerated, parts that were added."
As Bart gets more attention (which it definitely will) and gets picked up by a distributor (which it most definitely will), Kaplan will probably suffer many assumptions that he, in fact, is the Bart of the title. But that role is actually played by Chad Jamian Williams, who appears in just one scene as the mega-nerd who optimistically books himself a hotel room for some post-prom activities. Bart, as Hecker explains it, is really more of a symbol. "You don't really even meet Bart throughout the movie. The fact that he got this room, being the source of great anxiety and pain for the protagonist, is a way to accentuate the ridiculousness of our society. People are so worried about other people having a much better life than theirs."
Hecker says he was a self-described high school "dweeb,"or a self-deprecating nerd. In the movie Danny is definitely that, but eventually he becomes a dweeb who learns to let go and, as Hecker describes it, "feel the aliveness of this individual moment." For those who didn't catch the movie, Kaplan is coy about Danny's fate-- "[He succeeds] maybe not in the way that people were anticipating, but in the greater sense"-- but that's for the best. The ending of Bart, like the movie itself, is a delightful surprise that shouldn't be spoiled.