The mysterious Bart and the mythology of the senior prom as the defining moment in the life of a teenager are the unseen specters hovering over the slight comedy "Bart Got a Room."
Bart, the implied nerdiest of the school's nerds, sets the low bar that must be cleared by Danny Stein (engaging newcomer Steven Kaplan) if he is to hang onto his often elusive self-respect, while the prom, with its promise of an unforgettable "first time" with a girl, is the high bar of his dreams looming in the distance.
FOR THE RECORD: In an earlier version, director Brian Hecker's name was mispelled.
Danny's clock -- a psychological and physiological imperative to get not just "the" girl but "the" hotel room where all the magic will happen, because after all even Bart got a room -- starts ticking a couple of months pre-prom. And the race is on with its series of escalating and emasculating rejections for Danny as he struggles for the brass ring.
It's bad enough when the sophomore he takes to school each day turns him down, but when the bleached-blond hooker, a decade or more beyond her own high school days, tells Danny she "doesn't do proms," you have to wonder if there is a bottom to this pit.
Set in the geriatric community of Hollywood, Fla., everywhere the camera looks in this autobiographical first feature by writer-director Brian Hecker, there are people earnestly trying to navigate a life they're not quite prepared for. (You will likely think that applies to the filmmaker as well before the final credits roll.)
Always in the background is the aging population of the town with their walkers and sagging bodies -- hopes propped up by red lipstick, rouged cheeks and support hose, in case we were to forget where young Danny is ultimately headed.
Meanwhile, his newly divorced parents, Beth and Ernie ( Cheryl Hines and William H. Macy), are hard at work on the dating game they find themselves thrust back into. Macy's Ernie is a dad trying too hard to be cool with the women he meets over the Internet and still be relevant in Danny's life, while Beth's new man is not the one of her dreams but someone who will give her financial security. It is with these two veterans of the observational comedy wars that you feel most acutely Hecker's lack of experience, with Hines in particular underused.
Hecker is best with his young actors, Kaplan and Alia Shawkat, who plays Camille, Danny's best friend, all freckles and intelligent fun and the girl he should have asked to prom if his hormones hadn't gotten in the way. Kaplan has that lean, awkward look of a colt still finding its footing, which suits Danny, and he does a good job with giving his character the naiveté and desperation of a kid hoping to change what seems to be the "loser" setting of his life.