From the beginning, the movie seems to be tipping its hat to Anderson. Examples abound – the super-thick Futura bold font utilized for the title cards; the way the camera whips around as it follows Brian (Seater) through the halls of his prep school; the score that seems directly lifted from Mark Mothersbaugh's work on "Rushmore;" the fact that every high schooler dresses like Andre 3000, complete with tailored blazers and bowties the color of expensive pills; the slow-motion-for-no-good-reason pans. On their own, these flourishes are engaging and cute, much like the rest of the movie. The problem is that the references, both subtle and overt, seem to pile up like some catastrophic highway collision, so that by the time that the end titles start (after an unnecessarily drawn out slow-motion shot again reminiscent of Anderson), you shut down completely. (Somewhere, some festival nerd is already concocting a drinking game based around this.) Which is too bad. It would be less frustrating if "Sin Bin" didn't come so close to greatness. But it really, really does. It's got a smart script and a strong cast full of outrageously talented kids and captures some very real feelings of sexual frustration and isolation associated with the painfully awkward process of growing up. It would just be much more fun if the specter of Anderson wasn't haunting every goddamn frame.
While it would be easy to classify "Sin Bin" as yet another twee-as-fuck coming-of-age confection, that would be doing it a disservice. There's a timelessness and simplicity to the movie that recalls the works of John Hughes, there isn't a cell phone or computer in sight (the suburban Chicago setting certainly lends something to this, too) and a frankness to its depiction of sex that is refreshing and totally contemporary. It's got a hooky central conceit that would be easy to be fully encased in some kind of "Porky's"-on-wheels sex romp; hermetically sealed in dick jokes and masturbation gags. The fact that it isn't is a testament to its maturity and sophistication; the fact that it manages to cover so much thematic and emotional ground within that framework is pretty astounding.
It's the actors that really make "Sin Bin" such a blast to watch. Even though they are all very young and many of them unknown, their relative inexperience never comes through and they (largely) shine as bright as any movie star. Their chemistry is palpable and their comic timing snappy, and even though they're existing in a highly stylized world, wearing clothes they probably wouldn't put on in real life and speaking in screwball comedy-speak, a natural realism comes through. It's just that the naturalism seems to be a fight, given the cluttered amount of references and stylistic embroidery they're surrounded by. Had the filmmakers shaved away some of the embellished excess, they might have had a minor classic on their hands, worthy of the Anderson and Hughes canon. Instead, they have a very good movie whose reverence ends up bringing it down. [B]