Five months into a nationwide quarantine with no end in sight, it’s understandable if you’re itching to let loose a little bit. It’s probably been quite a while since the last time you went to a party – about the same since you went to the movies, too.
Well, “The Binge” is here to try and satisfy both those cravings with an all-out high school party flick. Unfortunately, it makes staying home and rewatching old movies look more attractive than ever.
“The Binge” has potential. Its premise feels capable of laying the foundation for another worthy entry in the high school party film pantheon, but the lazy execution of that idea instead falls victim to all of the generic genre trappings – and it doesn’t even pull off the basics well.
In a near future, America has reinstated and remodeled prohibition, effectively outlawing all forms of drugs and alcohol save for one day of the year, known as “Binge Day.” Think of it like “The Purge” – an obvious narrative inspiration – in which for one 12-hour window anything goes as long as you’re 18 years or older. From pot brownies to meth, beer to hard liquor, it’s all fair game on Binge Day in order to maintain the peace throughout the rest of the year.
For high school seniors like Griffin (Skyler Gisondo), Binge Day can go one of two ways. On one hand, he and his classmates have been forced to follow strict rules their entire lives, so why not cut loose at the first chance? On the other, though, Griffin has a lot to lose, namely his Ivy League acceptance to Brown University. You see, all the other normal laws are still in place on Binge Day, so just because you can binge, doesn’t mean there are no consequences. Other students, like the socially conscious Hags (Dexter Darden) and the socially outcast Andrew (Eduardo Franco) don’t have as bright a future as Griffin, so naturally, they’re ready to go all in on the binge.
The ensuing 12 hours leads to all sorts of shenanigans as Griffin and his friends struggle to balance the binging and their futures, all while attempting to find love, cement themselves in Binge Day history, and maintain their unraveling friendship.
Whatever creativity “The Binge” presents with its premise – a day fully dedicated to debauchery – it quickly goes to waste as the film follows the standard high school procedure, as if there’s an imaginary checklist it must complete. There’s the successful friend with plenty to lose, the unsuccessful friend being left behind, and don’t forget the social outcast who tags along. Plus, there’s the classic “one last chance to make a memory” concept, characters seeking a final shot at love, a huge party and plenty of obstacles keeping our protagonists from it, and, of course, a dramatic best friend breakup.
Sure, every movie in this sub-genre follows some sort of blueprint, but rarely do they hit every single cliched mark so effectively. Director Jeremy Garelick and writer Jordan VanDina work their way through all the classic tropes, but never even think to add a new or refreshing twist to any of them. Even the basics they do include aren’t executed well, though.
The only place “The Binge” attempts to divert from tradition is in a strange musical theater number during one of Griffin’s drug-induced trips. I guess you could say the performance is the film’s biggest “set piece,” and it’s entertaining and executed well, but it doesn’t fit the tone of the film in the slightest. It could easily pass as the opening number for the Tonys if they were awards for getting drunk and high, but the singing and dancing doesn’t fit in with the rest of the lowbrow film.
One of the most glaring issues facing “The Binge” is a group of characters that simply don’t force audiences to care. These one-dimensional characters are not funny, charming, or compelling enough to garner any sort of sympathy from viewers. As a result, when the climactic – yet expected – “breakup” occurs between the trio, there’s nothing for audiences to feel. When Seth and Evan split in “Superbad,” it’s a stirring and surprisingly emotional moment we all can relate to in the midst of a raunchy comedy. In “Booksmart,” Molly and Amy’s mid-party implosion is a profound and raw showdown that damn near results in tears. Here, there’s nothing.
Speaking of “Booksmart,” Gisondo and Franco were two hysterical bit players in a truly stellar cast. The two actors stole each scene they were in, respectively. The same can’t be said about their abilities as leading men – at least in this film. It’s hard to break out onscreen when handcuffed by a slew of genre stereotypes, though.
Now that “Booksmart” is on the brain, it’s hard to encourage anyone to watch “The Binge” when there are so many other – and more creative – options to satiate your high school party cravings. But if you’re looking for a derivative and mindless 90 minutes, then “The Binge” may be for you.
“The Binge” is available to stream exclusively on Hulu beginning August 28.
Zach Goins is a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association based in Charlotte, N.C. Zach co-founded Inside The Film Room in 2018 and serves as Editor-in-Chief of the website and co-host of the podcast. Zach also serves as a film critic for CLTure.org.