Vince Vaughn gives an enjoyably demented performance in an otherwise highly derivative teen-party movie that fails to do much with an intriguing parodic premise.
It’s impossible to watch Hulu’s new “original” comedy The Binge and not think of other, very similar films, most especially Superbad and Booksmart. Genre films don’t necessarily have a responsibility to originality, of course – a lot of the best are completely derivative. But The Binge feels especially wasteful for two reasons. The first is that it’s nowhere near as good as the films it’s so closely emulating – I didn’t much see the hype about Booksmart, but I’m much better disposed towards it now – and the second is that there’s a much better film here that it might have been had it capitalized on an interesting parodic premise.
More on that in a minute. First, let’s get the obvious out of the way. There is a party on the horizon, and it’s going to be epic; the party to end all parties, and the chance for the revelers there to become legends. Griffin (Skylar Gisondo, genuinely funny) wants to attend this party, but he’s too bookish and uptight to do so without some enthusiastic encouragement from his delusional best friend Hags (Dexter Darden), who’s equally hopeless but fancies himself as a ladies’ man. You know the type.
Another type you’ll recognize is the unusual outsider who’s roped into the adventure as a tagalong – here it’s Andrew (Eduardo Franco), a loner with a Morticia Addams do and a very complicated sibling rivalry. Vince Vaughn is on-hand as the stern anti-partying authority figure Principal Carlsen, a role complicated ever so slightly by the fact that his daughter, Lena (Grace Van Dien), is Griffin’s long-time crush.
You’ll recognize all of these composite elements, and the “teens are trying to get to a party but keep being thwarted by increasingly bizarre events” conceit is so reminiscent of Booksmart that it borders on plagiarism. Jeremy Garelick directs in the workmanlike style of someone who has seen a lot of teen-party movies and would like to see one more that’s very much like the others. None of this is surprising. But The Binge’s bigger, better idea is that it’s also a riff on The Purge; drinking and taking drugs is illegal except for during an annual 12-hour period, so this party isn’t just epic, but the first one these kids have ever been of legal age to experience and the only one of the year.
The great failing of The Binge is that it has no clue what to do with this premise. It works as a new way of framing very old ideas, but it has no real impact on anything that happens. Eventually, I forgot about it entirely, so rote are the motions and beats of the film. That’s a huge shame since there was plenty of potential to poke fun at not just The Purge as a franchise but teen-party movies as a monolith. Despite a demented performance from Vince Vaughn, who makes the most of being the big name on the film’s billing, The Binge ends up being just another samey block in the pile.
Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.