college ministry review: Post Grad

As a college ministry fan, I was excited to check out “Post Grad,” which opened last night. It’s a romantic comedy that looks at Life after College for today’s college grads. This is a theme that’s really important for us to investigate for ourselves AND discuss with students, especially for two reasons:

  • Transitioning students to the real world is an area in which we need major improvement
  • 20-something life seems to be less defined and more disillusioning than it was even a decade ago

I’m sad to report, however, that “Post Grad” may not particularly help us – or our students – figure this stuff out.

I’m not trained in Movie Reviewing, but there’s a whole list of “proper” movie reviews to choose from at Rotten Tomatoes. (Of the several reviews I read, the one at Reelviews was probably closest to my own thoughts.)

What I can offer is a review from a college minister’s point of view. And this movie’s plot certainly connects with our field: A recent college graduate (from Creston College), Ryden Melby, has a post-college plan – but then her dream job falls through. This forces her (gasp!) to move back in with her family and search for what’s next.

I like Millennials. A lot. But every generation’s strengths are coupled with weaknesses. And what I found interesting is that this movie seems like it simply shares weaknesses with its Millennial audience, rather than either accurately representing the “real world” OR honestly reflecting the “generational mood” as a whole. So there’s plenty to learn from, even if it’s not entirely what the movie was attempting to “teach.”

For one thing, the whole movie seems quite comfortable with the self-focused, self-centered streak that runs throughout. For instance: Not-Getting-My-Way is the great enemy. Friends and family are often (very) tangential props in my story, unless they can rub my feet or fix my car. I will not seek nor take advice from anyone. I will not do things I dislike or that don’t coincide with my sense of Self.

The college valedictorian’s speech at the beginning includes a comment that the graduates are smarter and better-prepared than anyone from past years. I figured this bit of obvious chronological snobbery was foreshadowing a later moment when parents (or somebody) would prove that wrong. But… no such luck. I imagine we in the audience are supposed to believe the statement, so as to be set up for the utter shock and dismay when one of those graduates doesn’t find immediate gratification. She’s certainly shocked.

And that connects to a second way “Post Grad” seems itself to share some of the weaknesses of the generation it’s trying to represent – it errs deeply on the side of idealistic optimism. Cases in point: The really-bad-times are laughably not very bad. The lead character’s arch nemesis is barely just an ambitious “frenemy.” We are told that “good things come to those who wait” (even explicitly, in the soundtrack); whether through accidental felinicide or your frenemy’s downfall, dumb luck will present your dreams on a silver platter. And then, of course, self-determined happy endings are always worth making uninformed, ridiculous decisions to pursue. Because things WILL work out this time, next time, and the next time, right?

Yet even the movie’s weaknesses could provide opportunities for “discussion starters” with college students and young adults. In fact, that may be its best use for us – taking the chance to observe its themes and discuss them in a far more consequential way than the movie ever does. So “Post Grad” is worth your time if you catch wind that your students end up seeing it (to discuss its topics with them). Or you could consider using it for a Movie Discussion Night, now or when it hits DVD.

Besides the opportunities for correcting the movie’s outlook presented above, here are some other “teachable moments” Post Grad provides:

The movie does announce the important truth that college graduation doesn’t equal smooth transition to the real world. That’s important for all college students and young adults to understand.

The show also offers a mild corrective to the many who pay homage to checklists, make an idol out of Plans, or are otherwise “obsessed with [their] future.” In the end, the movie undermines this mild correction with its heavy idealism, but it does suggest that these can be negative attachments.

If the inclusion of various “nutty family” scenes are meant to present relationships as a positive thing, this theme is so underplayed that family life just seems like a barrier – a barrier to the protagonist Getting What I Want and a barrier to her life (and the plot) Moving Right Along. And while the movie elsewhere does emphasize (through dialog) the importance of relationships, the actual story does little to confirm that… until the the movie overcorrects, and we’re encouraged to replace Plans-idol with Relationship – and let nothing (not seeking advice or wisdom or commitments or time to evaluate) stand in the way.

Finally, it was a little mystifying to have a movie about “landing on your feet” post-college ultimately present what felt like a really low view of work itself – especially if that work doesn’t come with a side of Everything Going Right. From how Ryden seeks jobs (awkwardly) to how she considers jobs (arrogantly) to how she lands jobs (with the help of “connections” each time), there’s a cynicism about the “work of work.” And when she ultimately quits those jobs – for some really terrible reasons – the movie treats each case with ambivalence (at best) or admiration.

So that’s what I took away from this. Hope it helps. Feel free to add additional thoughts OR counter-views on Post Grad that might help us all!

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  1. Pingback: finding the millennial in the movies « Exploring College Ministry blog (daily notes about our field)

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