What if you could only drink one night a year? Would you go on an all-night bender, or not even bother? Welcome to Hulu’s The Binge, a comedic spin on horror franchise The Purge that imagines a not-so-distant future where a modern prohibition has been implemented. With a up-and-coming cast and a potentially entertaining premise, The Binge seemingly has a chance to do something funny. But will it take you on the trip of your life? Or leave you with an unshakeable hangover?
THE BINGE: STREAM IT OR SKIP IT?
The Gist: Welcome to The United States of America, in the very near future. A “better, sober America”, where booze and drugs of all kinds are strictly prohibited – with the exception of one night a year, referred to as “The Binge”. Any folks 18 and older are allowed to partake in this wild annual bender, and that’s where we meet our protagonists. Best friends Griffin (Booksmart and The Righteous Gemstones star Skyler Gisondo) and Hags (Mazerunner‘s Dexter Darden) endure a school assembly where uptight Principal Carleson (Vince Vaughn) lectures them about the dangers of participating in The Binge. Griffin, who prides himself on staying out of trouble, is head-over-heels for the principal’s daughter Lena (Grace Van Dien), and can’t quite muster up the courage to ask her to the prom. While Griffin plans on spending the night in with his folks to avoid jeopardizing his admission to Brown, Hags won’t take this for an answer; he drugs their parents and they sneak out, enlisting the help of classmate Andrew (Booksmart standout Eduardo Franco) to get them wristbands for the evening’s biggest party.
From here, things go just about how you’d expect; getting the right wristbands turns out to be a much more violent process than they’d hoped for, scoring a ride that is more effective than their ‘Booze-cycle’ (an 11-seat bike) is something of a nightmare, and making their way to this party involves ingesting a lot more substances than any of them originally intended. A crazed limo driver (The Righteous Gemstones‘ Tony Cavalero), magic mushroom burritos, and an unexpected alligator appearance all contribute to the group’s near-death experiences. While in pursuit of becoming legends and attending the ultimate party, the trio (and the Principal, who is trying to find his bingeing daughter), simultaneously embark on journeys of personal discovery. With the help of entirely too many dick jokes, a lot of drug use, and a dazzling musical number, the group has a night to remember (or, more likely, to forget).
What Movies Will It Remind You Of?: The Binge is obviously a riff on The Purge, but it’s got the DNA of other teen party movies like Superbad, Booksmart, and Blockers thrown in there, too.
Performance Worth Watching: While the central trio certainly earns their place as the film’s focus – Franco lands some of the film’s strongest jokes – Skyler Gisondo proves once again why he’s one to watch. His role may not give him a ton to work with, but his screen presence is consistently magnetic, even when he’s missing an eyebrow. With hits like Booksmart, The Righteous Gemstones, and Santa Clarita Diet under his belt, Gisondo certainly should have his pick of projects in the future. I just hope the next one is better than The Binge.
Memorable Dialogue: I found most of The Binge‘s exceedingly eye-roll jokes to be pretty tedious, but there were a few bits that got me to chuckle. An exchange between the trio as they tell Griffin to text Lena that he’s a Virgo was one that I wrote down, like, immediately, and was probably sold thanks to Eduardo Franco’s knack for comedic timing:
“How do you know so much about astrology?”
“I had a pen-pal who went to space camp.”
Single Best Shot: There aren’t many standout visual moments in The Binge, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t sucked into the glitz and glamour of the unexpected musical number. Those kids can actually sing and dance!
Sex and Skin: There are a lot of (mostly bad) sex jokes over the course of the flick, and references to a nude Vince Vaughn posing for a wine-fueled paint night, but no real sexy time here.
Our Take: What a waste of talent. The Binge‘s young leads are some of Hollywood’s most exciting up-and-comers, and they’re left with a pretty bonkers (and largely unfunny) script to work with. They do their very best to carry the film on their backs – they are pretty much the only thing that motivated me to stick this thing out – but unfortunately, even some occasional laughs and endearing encounters can’t save this bender gone wrong. There’s just too much going on, and too much missing. The Binge is crazy, but not the kind of laugh-out-loud, memorable crazy that makes you want to bring your friends along for the ride.
I usually like to give a movie a good fifteen minutes before I start heavily judging it, but the student film feeling of the opening edits immediately threw me. And following that, The Binge‘s first act spends way too much time wallowing in Griffin’s hesitance to participate, throwing in random dick jokes with the kids, and to be frank, Vaughn’s character is just straight-up weird. And not in a funny way. It’s frequently creepy, and potentially even racist at times? Even the film’s set piece, the “gauntlet” competition that sees teams go up against each other in increasingly insane substance-fueled challenges, doesn’t really land. And to top it all off, the beginning of the film includes some extensive joking at the expense of a burn victim, which left a bad taste in my mouth, even if her burns are from a past “Binge” incident. The film suffers often due to leaning hard into jokes that aren’t working or feel like they are totally out of left field; the introduction to Andrew’s relationship with his mother feels ripped from a bad yelling sketch, the physical comedy (the use of a mini crossbow, duct-taping the trio together while they shit themselves, etc.) is more difficult to watch than it ever is actually entertaining, and an especially ill-advised bit involving a cow and a lot of drugs is just… bad. I will say I was mildly delighted by the musical number, but that might just be because I’m usually delighted by any musical number. And this one has a perfect excuse for existing.
The strange thing about The Binge is that the premise for the film – the idea that drugs and alcohol are only allowed for one night – doesn’t even matter. With the exception of a few fast-paced montages and narration, don’t really see what the world is like with this rule in place. Superbad and Booksmart do almost exactly the same thing; some best friends set out to have a night to remember before they go their separate ways after graduation, and inevitably, thanks to liquid (and powder, among other things) courage, some truths they’ve been unable to discuss come out. It’s a story we’ve seen over and over again, but when it’s done well, it can be riotously funny – just like Booksmart is. Unfortunately, the writing here is not strong enough to deliver anything particularly new or exciting.
Our Call: SKIP IT. While the three leads (and occasionally Vaughn) turn in fun performances, the jokes are largely unfunny, and the film struggles to get a handle on its tone. If you’re in the mood for a flick about teens trying to make it to the ultimate party and experiencing tests in their friendships along the way, I’d suggest Booksmart instead.
Jade Budowski is a freelance writer with a knack for ruining punchlines and harboring dad-aged celebrity crushes. Follow her on Twitter: @jadebudowski.