Let me be clear: Judy Greer is a goddamn national treasure, and I will fight anybody who says otherwise.
She’s an oft-overlooked actor, whether she’s playing the cool ex-wife (in “Ant-Man”) or the cool mom (in “Jurassic World”) or the crazy secretary (in “Arrested Development”), or a hundred other roles. Judging from the cast she’s assembled for her directorial debut, the middle-school comedy “A Happening of Monumental Proportions,” she’s also supremely nice, because how else would so many talented people get together for such a labored and humor-deprived script?
The movie chronicles one day in a Los Angeles middle school, on one of the most important days (as the title implies) on the calendar: Career Day. It starts on a morbid note for the principal (Allison Janney), who finds a groundskeeper dead on the school grounds. After learning the paramedics won’t handle someone who’s already dead, she enlists her vice-principal, Ned (Rob Riggle), to lug the body to the teachers’ lounge so the kids — and the parents visiting for Career Day — don’t see it.
Elsewhere at school, nerdy new student Darius (Marcus Eckert) develops an instant crush on a classmate, Patricia (Storm Reid, from “A Wrinkle in Time”). Darius finds himself getting advice from the shop teacher (John Cho) and the music teacher, Chrisian (Anders Holm), the latter of whom is living in his car and dealing with his failures.
Meanwhile, Patricia’s dad, Daniel (played by Common) is unprepared for Career Day, because he is having a very bad day at his job at a publishing firm. The husband of his assistant, Nadine (Jennifer Garner), has learned that Daniel’s having an affair with her — and wants to arrange a time to meet and kick his ass. Also, a new corporate hatchet man, Arthur (Bradley Whitford), is intent on finding out who committed a bit of petty vandalism to the office coffee machine, and Daniel is his prime suspect.
Greer bounces amiably from subplot to subplot, and there are a few nice moments, most of them involving little Darius getting worldly wisdom from his teachers. But neither Greer nor the cast — which includes Katie Holmes, Kumail Nanjiani, and an uncredited actor whose appearance toward the end truly surprises — can overcome the limply written dialogue in first-timer Gary Lundy’s screenplay.
Still, Greer moves things along briskly, and gets us in and out in 81 minutes. She’s so nice, even she doesn’t want audiences to suffer too long through her underwhelming movie.
‘A Happening of Monumental Proportions’
Opens Friday, Sept. 21, at select theaters nationwide, including the Megaplex Jordan Commons (Sandy). Rated R for sexual content and language. Running time: 81 minutes.