The Marc Pease Experience (PG-13) **½


High school can be such high drama.

The Marc Pease Experience
Marc Pease (Jason Schwartzman) was scared stiff as the Tin Man in the school play. Photo: Michael Tackett.

By Rene Rodriguez, The Miami Herald

The awkwardly titled The Marc Pease Experience is a comedy about a terminal case of arrested development. Eight years after graduating from high school, Marc Pease (Jason Schwartzman) is still behaving like a teenager. He's dating an 18-year-old senior (Anna Kendrick). He's holding down a throwaway job as a limo driver and he continues to entertain fantasies of becoming a pop-music sensation with his a cappella singing group.

The reason for Marc's emotional paralysis can be traced back to a single moment in adolescence. On the night he was playing the Tin Man in his high-school production of The Wiz, he was seized by stage fright and ran home just before his big solo number.

Despite his flame-out, Marc took to heart the pep talk by his drama teacher, Mr. Gribble (Ben Stiller), who tried to help him get over his nerves by telling him he was destined to be a star. Marc continues to cling to those encouraging words -- he's built his life around them -- and has even put the condo his late grandmother left him on the market in order to pay for a demo record he believes Mr. Gribble will produce.

Except the teacher barely even knows Marc exists. The Marc Pease Experience takes a little while to get going -- the first half hour dawdles and meanders -- but director/co-writer Todd Louiso eventually achieves a nifty little groove of dark satire leavened by a surprisingly dramatic undertone.

Stiller at first seems to be playing another broad cartoon, this one of the high-school drama teacher who takes himself much too seriously (he's like a less-effeminate version of Waiting for Guffman's Corky St. Clair). But the movie gradually reveals that there's more to the character than just caricature, and what's there is unexpectedly ugly and mean.

Schwartzman's turn as the day dreamer Marc also grows on you: By the time you discover the real reason why the teen couldn't go through with his solo on that fateful night -- a revelation the movie deftly throws out in one quick, almost tossed-off line of dialogue -- The Marc Pease Experience has become curiously affecting. This is a slight and unessential picture, but its quirky, compassionate tone seems destined to attract a cult following, and members of high-school drama clubs everywhere will be riveted.

Cast: Jason Schwartzman, Ben Stiller, Anna Kendrick, Jay Paulson, Zachary Booth, Ebon Moss-Bachrach.

Director: Todd Louiso.

Screenwriters: Jacob Koskoff, Todd Louiso.

Producers: Michael London, Bruna Papandrea, David Rubin.

A Paramount Pictures release. Running time: 84 minutes. Mild vulgar language. In Miami-Dade only: AMC Sunset Place.

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