When I was a kid, I watched Adventures in Babysitting innumerable times. If I flipped through the channels and it was on TV, I was hooked. Fun Size, the new comedy from Nickelodeon Movies takes a basic babysitting hijinks plot and mixes it with Halloween for somewhat limited success. In Fun Size, Wren (Victoria Justice), still coping with the death of her father while applying to colleges, catches the eye of super-popular Aaron Riley (Thomas McDonell), while doing a stick insect dance on the way to school. She scores an invite to his Halloween party, which her BFF April (Jane Levy) is dying to attend. Wren’s mom, Joy (Chelsea Handler), however, already has plans to go to a party with her 26 year-old boyfriend, leaving Wren to babysit her 8 year-old brother, Albert (Jackson Nicoll). Not long into trick-or-treating, Albert comes up missing. While Wren, April, and their friends Roosevelt (Thomas Mann) and Peng (Osric Chau) search for him all over Cleveland, Albert gets into endless trouble from visiting nightclubs to helping gas station attendant, Fuzzy (Thomas Middleditch), get revenge on the guy who stole his girlfriend. By the end of the night, Wren, Albert, and Joy all confront their lingering grief while Roosevelt and Peng get closer to the girls they love.
Fun Size has a few great parts. As the film opens, Wren considers dressing as Ruth Bader Ginsburg for Halloween and even proposes doing a rap to explain who she is. Her character is comfortable in her own skin, so it’s delightful, if far fetched, that she receives an invite to the popular kids’ party while dancing in the street like various animals. The film then promotes her character as a cool alternative to too-sexy costumes because she dresses like Dorothy, but with a Pink Floyd twist. Meanwhile, Albert’s antics are at first pretty cute, especially in his muted dynamic with Fuzzy. The recycled plot of a group of kids on a quest to keep parents from finding out about a major mess-up is pretty standard but initially it still feels fresh. After the first half of the film, however, the jokes have become so formulaic and the plot twists so far-fetched that the experience stales. The biggest offender is the Wren-Roosevelt-Aaron love triangle. Wren doesn’t ever seem interested in popularity, so her sudden distraction by Aaron at a party she was tricked into going to just doesn’t work. Later, she arrives at a total creep’s house to rescue her brother in a scene that is so uncomfortable I wanted to call the cops for her. The writing of the film is uneven and stilted enough that it undercuts the truly delightful parts early on.
Victoria Justice easily carries the bulk of the film. Her portrayal of Wren is at times thwarted by the silly twists of the plot, but she plays-up the charming moments, portraying a heroine who is confident enough in her nerdiness not to feel pressured to change. Of course, there is the caveat that this nerdy girl looks like a movie star. Thomas Mann as Roosevelt is a fitting counterpart. Boyishly handsome, it’s hard to believe that Wren never considered dating him before. As Albert, Jackson Nicoll manages to convey a variety of emotions even though his character is mute for the bulk of the film. Chelsea Handler’s scenes are so flat and formulaic she seems present simply for name recognition. Her character and her acting could have contributed so much more depth to the film with a bit more effort. One of my favorite character actresses, Riki Lindhome also has a fun role as Galaxy Scout, a character who both Albert and Fuzzy have crushes on, though in different ways.
Visually, Fun Size has a lot to work with. Halloween provides obvious opportunities for visual gags and rich set design. The creative directors make good use of this chance in the expected ways. On top of that, however, they include some unusual costumes (Aaron Burr?!) and giant robotic chickens to create a rich, colorful look for the adventure story. I think the twist to Wren’s costume—that she wears a rainbow ribbon and carries a Pink Floyd bag—is a clever way to take an obvious costume choice and turn it into a reflection of her character and a style worth looking at for the whole movie.
All told, Fun Size starts out strong but ultimately falls apart, wrapping up in a last act full of cliches and insane twists that detract from the really interesting parts of the plot, the relationships. The filmmakers clearly didn’t trust teen audiences to be interested enough in a smart, mature cast of characters without the distractions of a silly love triangle. 3/5 stars
Fun Size was directed by Josh Schwartz and written by Max Werner. It runs 90 minutes and is rated PG-13.