It is Halloween and Wren DeSantis (Victoria Justice), a smart but troubled teenager coping with her father’s death and about to start college, could really do with a fun night out. When the boy Wren has a crush on invites her and her best friend, April (Jane Levy) to his party it looks set to be the greatest night of her life. Unfortunately, Wren’s mother (Chelsea Handler) assigns her the task of trick-or-treating with her oddball little brother Albert (Jackson Nicoll), who never speaks a word but has taken to playing non-stop pranks on his long-suffering sister. Things take a turn for the worst when Wren loses Albert. Aided by Roosevelt (Thomas McDonell), a good-hearted geek harbouring a hopeless crush on Wren, she embarks on a chaotic cross-town adventure in search of the lost lad.
Children’s channel Nickelodeon have been pushing Victoria Justice as their breakout star, moving from the all-singing sitcom Victorious to a surprisingly deft turn as a lady lycanthrope in The Boy Who Cried Werewolf (2010). Fun Size marks her second Halloween themed movie but sadly proves a witless, misguided bore that squanders the star’s undoubted charisma and comic talent. As the feature directing debut of Josh Schwartz, creator of successful teen TV soaps as Gossip Girl and The O.C., this should have a firmer grasp of the family audience yet drew considerable criticism for its inappropriate content. A child calls Wren a “bitch”, a giant chicken humps a car, young Albert parties with scantily-clad disco dollies, gags about boobs, yeast infections, farting ping-pong balls and explosives along with some surprisingly salty language led many to suspect Max Handler’s screenplay was initially conceived for a far bawdier teen market before being watered down by Nickelodeon.
Handler’s script touches on familiar but evergreen teen themes with misfit Wren embarrassed by her family, anxious about her future and trying to fit in, but botches the more serious subject of coping with bereavement. The film’s biggest problem rests with the character of Albert who emerges an obnoxious and unsympathetic little brat. First glimpsed stark naked taking a dump, Albert spends the entire film guzzling candy and pranking everyone in sight as he hangs out with a loser convenience store clerk (Thomas Middleditch) whose attempted Halloween prank on an ex-girlfriend goes awry when he is beaten up by Samoan wrestlers. Don’t ask. Jackass star Johnny Knoxville puts in a cameo as the town bully who receives an exploding bag of dog poo from Albert. Evidently conceived by filmmakers that don’t like kids all that much, nothing about Albert invites us to care whether Wren finds him or not.
Amidst the slew of gags that fall hopelessly flat a handful prove mildly amusing including Roosevelt’s ongoing embarrassment at the hands of his liberal lesbian parents and the scene where Wren and her friends draw appalled glances from hipsters whilst cruising in a yellow station wagon blasting Josh Groban and the score from H.M.S. Pinafore from the stereo. Taking its cue from Chris Columbus’ cult favourite Adventures in Babysitting (1987) the events of one crazy night mark the road to maturity for a troubled teen heroine but the weak plot gives Victoria Justice surprisingly little to do and Albert’s climactic malicious prank undermines the would-be heart-warming finale. And, as if the audience had not suffered enough, he pops up again in a pre-credits coda that makes a mockery of the contrived explanation for his bizarre behaviour.