There are heaps of horror flicks to fill your October-viewing queue, but there are scant few films expressly about Halloween, and even fewer that don’t include slashed throats. Go ahead and add Fun Size to that wafer-thin, nonviolent canon, right next to Monster House and Hocus Pocus. The nimble teen comedy is the debut feature from The O.C. creator Josh Schwartz, and it warrants yearly revisiting despite its instant datedness, which involves a brazen capturing of the meme generation. Its humor is edgy and frequently hilarious, without crossing that delicate line into mean-spirited vulgarity. Written by Max Werner, an alum of The Colbert Report, it pairs modern attitude with John Hughesian tropes, and it’s odd enough, in spurts, to boast originality. If it didn’t feel the need to shruggingly compromise and casually offend, Fun Size would be a heavily recommended calorie fest.
The movie doubles as a platform for elevating TV talent, as Schwartz and Werner are joined by Victorious star Victoria Justice and Suburgatory lead Jane Levy, who play Wren and April, high school BFFs living in Cleveland. Wren is mourning the recent death of her father, and she’s a class outcast, despite being played by a stunningly gorgeous starlet. April is a randy social climber, who wants nothing more than to attend the Halloween party of school stud Aaron Riley (Thomas McDonnell), a pretty boy whose name is uttered in exaltation. Aaron, of course, has his eye on Wren’s goodies, creating an obstacle for her smitten neighbor, Roosevelt (Thomas Mann), a shy peer who shares her brainiac interests (to April’s disgust, Wren and Roosevelt swap nerdy costume ideas, like biologist E.O. Wilson and Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg). The film’s personalities weave together nicely. Like the jack-o’-lantern treat pail toted by Wren’s mute brother, Albert (Jackson Nicoll), a hell-raising eight-year-old who dresses as a battle-ravaged Spider-Man, Fun Size‘s supporting cast is generously jam-packed. Chelsea Handler is Wren’s widowed mom, Joy, whose grief has made her a scatterbrained cougar; Johnny Knoxville is Jorgen, a white-trash candy thief; and Thomas Middleditch is Fuzzy, a convenience-store clerk who’s the Jay to Albert’s Silent Bob, idolizing the strange boy as the two embark on misadventures.
The film ultimately arrives at the same old destinations, with unpopular puppy love trumping petty concerns, like April’s constant anxiety over committing “social suicide.” But the road to getting there is often a breezy blast, paved with the kind of random, memorable tidbits young viewers will quote and share. Fun Size hits its farcical peak during a car ride involving Josh Groban, a giant chicken, and Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Three Little Maids,” all swirled together to screamingly funny effect.
There are comedic missteps in the movie, which blows an opportunity to normalize gay themes by using them for caricaturish gags. When Roosevelt refers to his “moms,” Wren wryly announces that she thought he was “talking like Lil Wayne,” but he’s indeed raised by two hollowly new age-y lesbians, who hang Georgia O’Keeffe paintings, own a persnickety cat, and weave Barack Obama tapestries, all while dressed like they’re off to the Lilith Fair. The portion plays like a dusty, small-minded SNL skit, and incidentally features Ana Gasteyer as one of the mothers (Reno 911!‘s Kerri Kenney is the other). It’s a glaring setback in an otherwise sharply current comedy, which caps things off with an of-the-moment upload of an Auto-Tuned spoof video, and sports a soundtrack with the likes of Justice and Carly Rae Jepsen. Just how old will it make some viewers feel? Wren’s father, we learn, was a sound engineer for the Beastie Boys, and his Def Jam members-only jacket, which was once the property of Mike D, is worn and regarded by the heroine like a precious, ancient relic. Fun Size may not age as well as the Beasties’ music, but for waggish Halloween kicks, it’s pretty close to a sure shot.