Regarding the college sex comedy “Frat Star,” it doesn’t really let co-directors Grant Johnson and Ippsie Jones off the hook by saying “They MEANT” to make something appalling.
They succeeded, exposing the elitist, sexist and degrading “Greek” system as it ruins a perfectly good kid with callousness, sexist humiliations, class snobbery, racist indoctrination and sexual privilege in the most explicit sense.
But it’s a “light” comedy, one that tries to have it both ways, suggesting our hero/victim was already a victim before he got there — that his “initiation” into “manhood” is both necessary and funny. Because Nick Cooper is nothing if not a “pussy,” a financially-aided Ivy League kid who thinks hard work and true love are how one finds success and happiness.
That’s not the way it works at all, and there is comic potential in those Barney-in-“How I Met Your Mother” hard lessons about sex and women and love learned while coming of age.
But this grating farce makes its satiric points so clumsily, pounds its punchlines so relentlessly and vulgarly that it only made it to Netflix for the titillation factor. Teenage boys can watch college boys having lots of sex, much of it degrading, with compliant, half-nude coeds.
Any effort to make the sorority sisters every bit as cruel, sexually calculating and selfish -“They think this is THEIR sport. It’s not. Trust us.” — is just lip service paid to equal rights in this infuriatingly Neanderthal college comedy.
Nick (Connor Lawrence, out of his depth) has all the wrong ideas about college. Pep talks about “You’re going to have truffle butter out the wazoo!” from his boorish dad (Chris Elliott, less funny than usual) don’t impress him. “That’s not me.”
That’s even his mantra when he meets his antic/manic/Old Money roommate Billy (Justin Mark, trying WAY too hard). Billy offers him a bottle, lures buxom coeds into their room with it and flips out when Nick shows how little experience or interest he has in getting it he has getting either.
“That’s not me. I’m going to orientation.”
“What do we need orientation for? We already KNOW our gender!”
Billy refuses to give up and coaches Nick relentlessly about hiding the financial aid thing, giving up on the girlfriend back home who dumped him with extreme prejudice and hitting every “rager” and keg party the frats on campus toss.
Nick may be a social media pariah, #NickCooper is a meme the ex’s colorfully-nicknamed new lover (F— Jerry) created to show how pathetic his pleading texts to the hateful Ashley (Kelley Missal) are.
Nick — “We need to talk.”
Ashley — “Who are you again?”
But dragging Nick with him into Phi Delta becomes Billy’s mission. Working class Nick is reinvented as the heir to Cooper Tires. Of COURSE he’s down with treating women as objects to be grabbed, used and tossed aside. Of COURSE he’s old money conservative.
That cute music major, Rosanna (Cathryn Dylan, barely registering)? She’s as trapped as he is. Every time they start to talk, a pushy sorority sister who calls Nick “Faggot” interrupts, or the handsome, entitled frat president (Tyler Weaks) cuts in.
The film takes a stab at showing the parallel progress of our two innocents in college — mean sorority girls trying wise-up Rosanna by bedding the one guy she has an interest in, frat boys imprinting their racism, homophobia, xenophobia and class privilege (“Work? You don’t have to WORK in college. Not if you know the right people!”(.
“Segregation kind of makes some SENSE. I mean, the reason we’ve never had any African Americans here…”
“Blacks. You can say ‘Blacks.’ There aren’t any here.”
The Chinese pledge is named “Ching Chong,” and given a racist pidgin accent. The black pledge is nicknamed “Token.”
As mean and un-PC as that is, gags like that actually brought laughs in “Animal House,” which made the same satiric points even as, like “Frat Star,” you know the WRONG message was the one the future frat boys and sorority girls took home from it. Party, copulate, cheat, lie and steal, for the adult world is all that lies beyond.
“Natural Selection,” the raving Trump Bro (Peter O’Connor) snaps.
“Get some color,” among our recruits House Manager/Pledge Leader Augustus (Max Sheldon) urges. “Mix it up. Mulatto. Maybe a mulatto…Let’s not shove it in everybody’s faces that we all drive S classes.”
The frat brothers work up a homoerotic sweat as they urge each other to “RIDE these pledges…Paddling. I want more PADDLING.”
Nick, caught up in all this, develops a complex — a preppy “conscience” who ridicules his better instincts and urges him on, to use women, slip into sorority windows and complete the steps of his initiation quest.
Nick learns to demean women, mock lesser Ivies (“Brown” jokes, of course.) and memorize the values of the fraternity leadership.
“Best band of all time?” “Uh, Coldplay? ”
“MUMFORD and Sons!”
“Best TV show of ALL time?” “Entourage.”
“Best Adjective of all time? WRONG! EPIC!”
“Best MOVIE? ‘Boondocks Saints!'”
That little bit of ridicule pays off. The rest? Lost in a sea of profanity, slurs, frantically-delivered weak lines or buried in a wildly uneven sound mix.
By the time the cocaine shows up and this debacle dives across the finish line for its very sour ending, I was beyond over it.
“Animal House” brought fraternities back from the dead in the late 70s. The one comfort we can take from “Frat Star” is that this time, appalling isn’t the least bit appealing.
MPAA Rating: TV-MA, graphic degrading sexual content, profanity
Cast: Connor Lawrence, Justin Mark, Cathryn Dylan, Chris Elliott
Credits:Directed by Grant S. Johnson and Ippsie Jones, script by Grant S. Johnson. A Gravitas release.
Running time: 1:25