The Secret Lives of Dorks (2013)
★ / ★★★★
“The Secret Lives of Dorks,” written by Johnny Severin and Nicholas Brandt, is not a movie but a television show. Rather, it is a first draft of a pilot doomed to fail if it somehow had gotten a green light from a desperate network looking to appeal to whoever is too lazy to reach for the remote control and change the channel. This is not a movie for smart teenagers. This is not a movie for any teenager. In fact, I know they will likely despise it. The film neither accurately represents the realities of high school life nor does it know how it is really like to be an outsider. It is false from top to bottom.
Payton (Gaelan Connell), comic book nerd, has a crush on Carrie (Riley Voelkel), the head cheerleader. It is their senior year which means it is his last chance to overcome astronomical odds to get her to go out with him. Mortified every time her friends notice Payton around her, Carrie concocts a plan to get the loser away from her permanently: help Samantha (Vanessa Marano), unibrow girl, to snag a date with Payton and hopefully they will hit it off.
The combination of live-action and animation is uninspired. It fails to establish a rhythm between the modes and so the jokes are lost in the shuffle. The animation is supposed to look hand drawn, but nothing about it is eye-catching or special. Always accompanied by narration, one wonders why the filmmakers were convinced that having animated sequences is necessary to enhance the story. It is like walking into a house with garbage all over the floor and the owner expecting guests to appreciate the art on the walls.
The writers’ sense of humor is childish and downright idiotic at times. This is because they have a proclivity for setting up a scene with a possibility of something going wrong. It almost always ends up disastrous for the characters. Because such a formula is employed so many times, the material becomes predictable and boring.
Payton and Samantha’s date is an excellent example of the writers’ dreadful thought process. Clearly, the two characters have never been on a date. Instead of allowing the two of them to have a genuinely sweet time with occasional awkward moments—as many first dates tend to have—bathroom humor is abound. Do Severin and Brandt really believe that their target audience—teenagers—will find unrelenting fart and poop jokes to be funny? Maybe—maybe—if the characters were supposed to be in middle school, it might have worked. I felt as though we are supposed to relish the embarrassment that Payton and Samantha are going through.
Not once did I believe that Ms. Stewart, Payton’s biology teacher, would have had a difficult time getting the attention of Payton’s father (James Belushi), a widower. Ms. Stewart is played by Jennifer Tilly and she is miscast. It is not Tilly’s fault because she oozes sexual charisma without even trying. The casting directors are to blame because it was their job to hire a performer who could look pathetic or desperate. They went for the big name instead of what makes sense for the character being portrayed.
Perhaps the saddest and most frustrating miscalculation is the execution of the father-son relationship. There is a way to communicate that there is a disconnect between family members in interesting and even amusing ways. This film goes for the easiest and most typical route: the father being interested in football while the son would rather read comic books. I will not bother to go into details about how ordinary it is. Consider all the clichés you can think of about strained father-son relationships and they can be found here. The writers didn’t even try to come up with anything remotely original.
Directed by Salomé Breziner, “The Secret Lives of Dorks” is like a dead thing: a disgusting sight with a stench that lingers in the mind—and kills brain cells in the process.