Judge Brendan Babish almost got tenure, but his committee was biased against never-nudes.
He's having a mid-term crisis.
The saddest thing about Tenure isn't that it never got a theatrical release—though that is unfortunate. The saddest thing is that when I first saw the cover art, which prominently features Luke Wilson, I thought, "Hey, it's that guy from the AT&T commercials." Yes, Wilson, an amiable actor who excels at playing deadpan suburban slackers, may now be more known for those stupid commercials than anything else. This wouldn't be so bad if Tenure was a bad movie; I could just make fun of it and how bloated Wilson looks when he's hawking cell-phone plans. However, Tenure is an above-average comedy, even though it now carries the AT&T taint.
The movie has a simple premise: Assistant Professor Charlie Thurber (Wilson) is applying for tenure at a small Pennsylvania college and experiencing the requisite anxiety and panic of that process. Exacerbating his stress is the recent hiring of Elaine Grasso (Gretchen Mol, An American Affair), a fetching new faculty member who is stiff new competition for Charlie. Additionally, Charlie's best friend on the faculty, Jay Hadley (David Koechner, Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy), was recently denied tenure himself, and now seems to be going insane. If all that weren't enough, Charlie's father (Bob Gunton, The Shawshank Redemption) is showing signs of senility and deeply resents having to live in an assisted living facility.
Tenure's plot may not be original, but it proves adequate as a joke-delivery system, which is probably the most charitable way to view the film. Though there are half-hearted attempts to imbue the story with a message, Tenure's success comes through its wry humor. When the film veers off into the philosophy of teaching, it not only seems out of its depth (the only way I figured out Charlie was a good teacher is because everyone kept saying he was), but off point. A movie in which faculty members are obsessed with finding Bigfoot and argue about bathroom etiquette is not fertile ground to educate the audience on the earnestness of the profession.
Thankfully, the movie is funny almost despite itself. The humor is often crude and broad—such as accusations of peeing on a toilet seat or a fledgling erotic poetry club—but ironically, the subtle humor is what gets the big laughs. There are several moments that almost seem like afterthoughts—Charlie bringing a cheap bottle of wine to a faculty dinner; a bungled date with a PBS pledge-phone operator—that get big laughs. Much of this is a credit to writer/director Mike Million, who certainly has a canny sense of humor. Much credit much also go to a solid cast: Wilson may be the most laconic actor of his generation, but while so many performers go too broad in comedies (such as co-star Koechner), he's refreshingly low-key. Mol doesn't get many big laughs, but she is an engaging actress who brings class and a small amount of pathos to a movie in need of it.
That said, it is impossible for me to be too bullish on Tenure. This is not an ambitious film, and yet it still doesn't even succeed in accomplishing its humble goals. Still, while it falls short of profundity, it is amusing and occasionally very funny—no small feat. This makes it a slightly above-average comedy. It's not a movie you are going to guffaw all the way throughout—like The Hangover or Pineapple Express—but it is far superior to almost any sitcom not on NBC's Thursday night lineup.
The DVD offers very little in terms of extra inducements. The only bonus features are a few deleted scenes and a blooper reel. There aren't even any subtitles. While the soundtrack offers nothings beyond the front speakers, the picture quality is not bad. Million wisely shot the film in Pennsylvania, and the wooded environs make for a picturesque location and a real, small college town.
This is very close to a hung jury, but I'll let the defendant go for good behavior. Not guilty.
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