There have been some recent scheduling changes in my life. Now that I have my room finally back to normal, I have been able to get myself back into a better prayer routine. I am one of those crazy Catholics that does Liturgy of the Hours, but I did not have a serviceable area for a few months to go into to pray alone at the appropriate times. Regardless, now I am waking up at an earlier hour, getting work and reviews written, and then heading to Mass. I practically lead the life of a monk. There has been one little curveball in my evenings, though, and that is my commitment to helping one of my best friends with his new house. I could not be prouder of him and all he has accomplished in recent years, and it is an honor to not only call him a friend but assist him with his projects. Last night, the painting we did went a little longer than I anticipated. This meant that when I got home, I decided to forgo the list for one night in favor of finding a short movie. If one of your suggestions had come up, then I would have gone with it. As fate would have it, a certain film from 2006 called Accepted appeared in my Google search of good, short movies. I had meant to see it back in the day, but circumstances prevented it. Who knows what were those circumstances. I can tell you that it was around the time that I was applying to Ph.D. programs, so the film’s message (albeit in retrospect) hit close to home.
At first, Accepted comes off as stereotypical, focusing on the oddly named Bartleby Gaines (Justin Long) as he struggles with where he is going to go to college and what he is going to do with his life. Perhaps “struggle” is an understatement. He has no clue what he wants to do and he has been rejected by every school to which he applied. At the same time, his parents are putting a lot of pressure on him to get his future sorted, believing that the only way to be successful in life is by getting a degree from a university. While his best friend, Sherman Schrader (Jonah Hill), has gotten into the prestigious Harmon College, there are other classmates like Bartleby that are without higher education prospects. With Sherman’s help, Bartleby and a few others decide to create a fake school called the South Harmon Institute of Technology (yes, its acronym is a bad word and a running joke in the film). Bartleby is able to create an acceptance letter from the school, mail it to himself, and show his parents that he will in fact be attending college after all. His father, Jack (Mark Derwin), then hands him a large check to cover tuition and expenses. Bartleby, along with with three other accomplices who also received admission into the fake school, use their money to fix up an abandoned institute for mental health, and they figure they will live there for the rest of the school year. However, the website that Sherman created for their specious academy is also found by a couple hundred other hopefuls. With its promise of acceptance being only one click away, they all show up on the first day of “class” expecting to be educated. Initially, Bartleby decides to tell them that it is a hoax, but the overwhelming hope they have in being there convinces him to continue with the charade. Thus, their curriculum becomes whatever it is the student body wants it to be, which, as a college educator, is a bit terrifying. Still, while it is played for laughs in some of the choices made, such as one of the school’s founders, Rory Thayer (Maria Thayer), having a course on doing nothing, there is a certain charm to it all that, if nothing else, keeps students around. Of course, because it is all bogus, it cannot last. When the neighboring college turns its attention to South Harmon, one of its fraternity’s leaders, Hoyt Ambrose (Travis Van Winkle), decides to call in a parent’s day for the students at the false school. This is motivated by Harmon’s dean, Richard Van Horne (Anthony Heald), wanting to brush aside South Harmon’s buildings in order to create a swanky entrance way, but also due to the fact that Hoyt’s ex-girlfriend Monica Moreland (Blake Lively) develops a crush on Bartleby. Of course, when the parents show up, along with Dean Van Horne, everything falls apart. What saves the day, though, is when Sherman submits the school to the state accreditation board. At the subsequent hearing, Bartleby passionately argues against the traditional college system that led to so many young people feeling the sting of rejection and potentially seeing their hopes crumble. It is enough to earn them the proper sanctions, and the respect of Bartleby’s parents. Thus they all go back to the South Harmon Institute of Technology the following year.
One can imagine the utter chaos that would come with having a school like in Accepted where a bunch of late teenaged people are left to their own devices. Thankfully, the film does not show anything too wild, though there is plenty of innuendo and suggestion. Given the subject matter involved, I expected a much worse film. Nonetheless, it struck a chord. As I mentioned at the outset, it came out at a time when I too received rejection letters from nearly all the schools to which I applied. With each one that arrives, you see your dreams get that much smaller. The relief I felt when I finally received admission to Loyola University Chicago was overwhelming, and I believe I ran around the front yard in wild excitement, if memory serves. What added a bit more significance to the film for me is one of the hundreds that arrive at the South Harmon Institute of Technology on the first day, Abernathy Darwin Dunlap (Robin Lord Taylor). With all the potential students assembled, Bartleby is about to tell them all to go home when Abernathy, who suffers from Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), interrupts. Abernathy tells Bartleby and those gathered that him getting into South Harmon was the first time his parents told him that they were proud of him. There were similar stories of people around the room, and they are what convince Bartleby to keep the school. It is a motivation he shares too, a desire to do right by his parents that is a Biblical virtue, I might add.
Another worthy aspect of Accepted is to be found in its title. Dean Van Horne brings this into sharp detail when he brags about Harmon College’s low acceptance rate as keeping the learning in, and the riffraff out. To be clear, it would be ridiculous to compare Bartleby to Jesus, but the young man understands the difficulties and wounds that come with rejection. Our Savior tailored His message to people such as these because He knew they were the ones most in need of being reached. God will never turn your away. I do not know about other Christian churches, but in many towns around the world you can find a Catholic place of worship with open doors, ready to receive those wanting to spend time with God. Even though there is (somewhat disappointingly) not a twenty-four Adoration chapel in my diocese, our Cathedral does have Exposition and two Masses daily. Anyone can come, just like South Harmon apparently let anyone into it. To be so welcoming is truly a gift that needs to be appreciated in all its forms. Doing so is being Christ-like.
Of course, there is very little Christ-like about Accepted outside of its title message. Still, it is not quite as raunchy as you might expect. There is some material I could have done without, but overall I did not find it to be too bad in this regard, pretty much in keeping with its PG-13 rating. And despite some personal misgivings, I kind of like the idea of giving students a creative, unstructured space in which to plot their own futures. There are dangers, of course, and it is not a style of learning suitable for everyone. But I can think of far worse ways of figuring things out than in a college setting. There are a few genuine laughs in it, too. In the end, I was pleasantly surprised by this one.