Whatever the limitations of "mumblecore" movies like Mutual Appreciation and Hannah Takes The Stairs, those films at least have an insider's take on the comfortable ruts of post-graduate life. The indie comedy Flakes belongs on the same dusty shelf as Reality Bites, the TV series Love Monkey, and that old Subaru commercial that compared an Impreza to punk rock. Aaron Stanford plays an aspiring New Orleans rocker who never has time to work on his music because he's too busy managing a hipster hangout that only serves retro cereal. Zooey Deschanel plays Stanford's girlfriend, a boho painter who tries to force Stanford to pick up his guitar again by bolstering the fortunes of the corporate cereal bar across the street. Nearly every conversation Stanford has—either with Deschanel or with their friends—is about how cool he is for not selling out. Shaded just a little off-center, Flakes could be a satire of blinkered hipsterdom.
Instead, director Michael Lehmann and screenwriters Chris Poche and Karey Kirkpatrick turn Flakes into a routine coming-of-age story, in which Stanford has to realize what should be obvious to most: that any commercial enterprise, whether it be making music or slinging bowls of milk and grain, requires compromise. Which is a fine message, really. But did Stanford have to be such an obviously unlikeable "rebel" type who boasts about getting kicked out of a fancy restaurant and hangs up a "We reserve the right to refuse service to assholes" sign at his restaurant? And did the movie's sole nod to the tough times New Orleans has suffered lately have to be a prank Stanford pulls, wherein he promises the homeless that his competitor will give them free cereal? And did Deschanel really have to urge Stanford to grow up by self-righteously harrumphing, "Cereal is not food, it's baby food"?
From the cocky speeches about the history of General Mills' monster cereal line to the concluding rock 'n' roll cover version of the Freakies jingle, Flakes tries to exploit what it perceives to be the attitudes of young people today, while also giving them a stern talking-to. Except that the characters Lehmann and company use as generational mouthpieces bear no relation to any people who have ever existed, and they barely work as parody. It's cool to see the old retro cereals on the restaurant shelf, though. That, the movie gets right.