Review: “Pitching Tents” Uses Movie Cliches but Doesn’t Rely On Them
We’ve seen the movie before: seniors in high school are about to graduate, they want one last hurrah before making decisions that will impact their lives forever, and the whole time they have to hide the big party from their parents and teachers. “Pitching Tents” uses this premise for its foundation but does a great job at not falling victim to it. One of the reasons it is able to escape the pitfalls is because of the performances director Jacob Cooney is able to get from his cast. It seems it would have been easy to have the actors play exaggerated versions of their characters and have this be a “whacky comedy” full of physical humor and dick jokes, but everyone plays their character with an unexpected level of authenticity that I found myself actually getting invested in them. By the time I got halfway through the film, I wasn’t concerned about the fact that I had seen this story play out before because I was more focused on the fact that I was finally rooting for the people involved. There are a few movies that have got this right before — “10 Things I Hate About You” and “Dazed and Confused” come to mind — and a few that haven’t — “American Pie 2 & 3” and most of the ones under the “National Lampoon” title. I can now add “Pitching Tents” to the former.
Another reason this movie worked is because they broke up the story into two halves. One half is the kids partying, drinking, and doing their best not to get in trouble. The second half is all about their guidance counselor, Mr. Mulligan (Jim Norton), and the pressures that adulthood have laid at the footstep of this mentally fragile person. Faced with the reality of losing his job since he doesn’t seem to be guiding kids in any direction other than making terrible choices, Mulligan must help at least one senior get into college or face telling his roommate mother that he’ll indeed be living at home for the rest of his life. This is where Cooney gets the most of his humor from in the movie; in allowing the audience to watch this man’s life crumble around him as he frantically tries to glue all of the pieces back together. Whether it’s writing a ludicrous essay for a student that’s supposed to evoke emotion or waking up half naked on a boat floating down the river, Mr. Mulligan’s version of the story is where this film found the freedom to let loose a little and it complimented the other half perfectly.
I respect that writers Rob A. Fox and Jayme Petrille used comedy cliches as a foundation and not as a crutch. It makes their story more palatable to a wider audience while making it enjoyable for stuffy reviewers like myself. Yeah there are ridiculous moments like sex involving a fish and characters locking eyes while throwing up the contents of the night before, but there’s also subtle complex storylines like potentially disappointing your overbearing father and facing the terrifying reality of becoming an adult. While they could have piled this script with everything they found funny, Fox and Petrille instead chose to write a good script that translated into an enjoyable movie experience.
“Pitching Tents” releases in L.A. today and is set to hit more theaters in the coming weeks.