Colleges love to send Bartleby Gaines rejection letters. And his parents are getting worried that his poor grades and high school shenanigans have ruined his life. To calm their fears and give himself some breathing room, Bartleby makes up a fake college (South Harmon Institute of Technology), gets his friend Sherman to create a Web site for it, and sends himself a letter of acceptance. His parents are thrilled. So thrilled they decide to take him to school and meet the dean. Uh-oh.
Thinking fast, he and his friends renovate a boarded up psychiatric hospital and recruit Sherman's Uncle Ben (an alcoholic, society-hating ex-academic) to pose as the esteemed dean. Somehow, Bartleby's parents are duped and leave him with a $10,000 check for the first semester's tuition. The ploy is so successful that his loser friends want in on the act, too. In fact, hundreds of kids want in. It seems that Sherman made the fake university Web site so functional ("Acceptance is just a click away") that college rejects swarm in like flies with tuition at the ready. Bartleby and the gang must figure out how to run a school and somehow fend off the dean of the real Harmon University who wants to discredit them.
When Sherman is hazed and beaten up by college fraternity members, Bartleby pleads with him to stop letting them humiliate him. Sherman defends the actions as a school tradition. Bartleby says, "I've got a tradition for you, Sherman. You've been my friend since we were kids. That's the only tradition I care about."
Bartleby carries that same "help the underdog" attitude into dealing with all the students at his fake university. One kid says, "When I got accepted here, it was the first time my parents ever said they were proud of me." And even though the school is a lie, Bartleby sincerely wants to give these "rejects" a place to belong, and he encourages them to follow their passions in life. Later, he defends them in front of the school district board.
A couple of people "Thank God" that someone graduated or was accepted at college. During a concert, the singer states that he's been possessed by the spirit of a famous rocker.
This being a summer teen romp, sexual references, terminology and imagery are rampant. Kiki hands Bartleby a bag of cash to pay for her tuition and blankly says, "I'm done fishing singles out of my G-string. I'm in college now." This opens the door for characters to repeatedly ogle her and her female friends in various states of undress. She also becomes prime fodder for repeated sexual innuendo.
One student, searching for his inner passion in woodworking, creates fertility-god-like statues with enormous phalli. And Sherman is forced to dress in sexually humiliating costumes. For example, he wears a hotdog costume and must stand in the student commons imploring people to ask him about his wiener.
Uncle Ben, the only adult depicted as really knowing anything, uses harsh sexual language and spouts references to body parts and sexual organs to illustrate to students how society is abusing them and turning them into "pimps and whores." Bartleby tends to attack his enemies with "jokes" about their sexual actions. For example, he accuses a bully of sexual harassment, a frat boy of being gay and his high school vice principal of masturbating. (It's not the only masturbation reference.)
Girls in low-cut shirts, short skirts, micro bikinis and even body paint abound. The malicious tripping of a fire alarm sprinkler easily turns into a wet T-shirt romp. One male student, dressed in nothing but underwear, is shown unconscious on a pool float with three bikini-clad girls after an all-night party. Another male sings and jumps around in Speedo-type trunks. A well-attended class "teaches" guys "how to" eyeball curvaceous girls in the pool. A leering student says, "I can't believe this is a class!"
When the kids are originally cleaning out the dilapidated psychiatric hospital, they find an abandoned but functioning defibrillator. Placing the paddles on their temples and chest, several are shown shocking themselves for kicks. The Harmon University dean's car explodes, supposedly triggered by a student's mind power.
A fraternity binds Sherman's hands and threatens him with a wooden paddle. Later we see him with a bruised and battered face. A cooking experiment explodes, blowing a guy out of the South Harmon kitchen. A TV and other objects smash to the ground after being thrown through glass windows. Skateboarders crash to the floor of a skate ramp. And clumsy Bartleby takes numerous stumbling pratfalls—falling on his face, hitting his head with a car lift gate, tripping down stairs—all for the sake of slapstick humor.
Crude or Profane Language
The acronym for Bartleby's fake South Harmon Institute of Technology is Accepted's central gag. The s-word is also used dozens and dozens of times in dialogue, in the film's songs and in every form of visual imagery from the school's emblem to its mascot to its line of school clothing.
There is one audible f-word, one bleeped f-word and one "effing." "H---," "a--" and "a--hole" appear about 20 times each. God's name is combined with "d--n" a couple times and Jesus' name is misused once. Another 20-plus profanities and vulgarities are added (including Uncle Ben's harsh sex talk).
Drug and Alcohol Content
South Harmon takes "party school" to the extreme. All-night beer binges culminate in a poolside draped with inebriated and unconscious teens. One partier finds a tank of anesthetic gas and hooks it to a face mask. Teens are seen drinking wine, mixed drinks and beer around the sham campus. And Bartleby refers to students making a drug deal as "a lesson in economics."
Bartleby indicates that his mom is going to get a drink after hearing that he's been rejected from another college. And indeed, we see Mom guzzle wine whenever the subject of college is raised. At one point a delivery man arrives with two-dozen kegs of beer, Uncle Ben says it's his order and takes it to his trailer.
Other Negative Elements
Accepted depicts every adult (except the drunken Uncle) as completely unaware (no one notices that a building that used to be a boarded up husk is suddenly a college), cruel (one set of parents drops maladjusted junior off at the school with, "He's your problem now!"), or megalomaniacal (the dean of the real Harmon wants to eliminate half the campus housing so that he can reject as many students and be as prestigious as Yale).
Bartleby jokes about a feeling of anti-Semitism at the real Harmon College. When first cleaning out the fake school, a restroom door is opened to reveal a room literally dripping with feces.
Suspension of disbelief is crucial to enjoying a movie. Even in this broad comedy, you have to pretend that a place like South Harmon can exist. That kids coming up with classes like "Doing nothing," "Rocking out" and "Blowing things up with my mind" can be creative and learn something. And that a school board can look at this dizzy campus—and maybe, on the passion of one speech—give it accreditation.
Accepted makes that very difficult to do, though. It wants to be about rebels who fight authority and scream that the rigid structure of formal education is at odds with the passionate flow of unencumbered creativity. But that point is so absurdly presented and paper-thin that even Uncle Ben, as drunk as he usually is, would find it hard to hold onto. Mass drunkenness, fresh-faced sexuality and excremental anarchy are far easier to spot.
While I was waiting with my notebook, ready to review this movie, an elderly, white-haired woman sat nearby and politely asked what I was doing. I explained, and we spoke briefly about our mutual love of movies, tossing out a few favorite comedies from years past. After the movie, she surprised me by leaning over and whispering, "If it wasn't for all the s--- it might have been an OK movie." I replied, "That would only leave the title screen." She shrugged with her eyebrows. I could see her polite side wanting to say something good about the movie, but failing. And I knew how she felt.