General Education

| October 2, 2012

Levi Collins (Chris Sheffield) has the perfect life.  He’s about to graduate high school, and accept a scholarship to play tennis at Forest Wood University.  Except that he’s not going to graduate high school because he manages to fail his Earth Science class at the eleventh hour.  So, with his father’s pride on the line, Levi must go to summer school to make up the credit and get his diploma.

“General” is a very good word for the tile of this film.  It’s a very general, typical, conventional high school comedy, and that idea is extremely boring to me.  It feels like one of the writers wanted to make the next Van Wilder, while another wanted to make the next Rushmore, and the third has probably at least heard of movies at some point.  Unfortunately, when you want to be the next whatever, then you’re ultimately limiting how original your film is going to be.  That’s the big problem with General Education.  It feels too much like these other high school movies that we’ve seen over and over again, almost to the point of just being referencing these other films for two hours.

I will say that there are some legitimately funny moments here.  The very opening of the film, where Levi is facing off against another player in a match, and trying to impress the Forest Wood scout is hilarious, and does establish Levi immediately as a suave, collected, witty character who should be fun to watch over the course of the film.  To my utter disappointment though, Levi’s characterization quickly becomes inconsistent.  It’s infuriating to watch the Levi character change from scene to scene as if he’s little more than a device serving the somewhat absurd plot line.  His character is constantly being sacrificed for a joke, and that just makes a lot of the humor in the film cheap and inorganic.

Janeane Garafalo and Larry Miller are both exceptional as Levi’s parents.  Miller plays the Mayor of this town, while Garafalo does an great job of playing the little housewife here.  Her character is a little bit absent minded, which gives her a certain charm that never gets old, and plays into some of the more absurd and surreal elements of the film.  She reminds me of Allison Janney’s performance in American Beauty, except much more lucid and engaging.

The story feels a little too convenient for comfort.  In order for Levi to deceive his parents and make them believe he has graduated and is ready to pursue a tennis career, he convinces his principal to let him participate in the graduation ceremony even though he won’t be receiving a diploma.  Except, his name is called and he walks and gets a diploma.  All for the sake of selling the film’s premise that Levi’s parents can’t know he’s in summer school.  Beyond being unrealistic, it’s unnecessary.  Yes, the film would have to change considerably if his parents know from the beginning that he’s in summer school, but it wouldn’t have been a difficult thing to accomplish.  Instead, we’re left with a storyline that becomes really difficult to buy into.

The last thing I’d like to mention about this film is the presence of Charles (Skylan Brooks).  Charles is Levi’s “sidekick.”  Except that he’s really Levi’s assistant.  This is where a lot of the comparisons to Rushmore come from for me.  The connection between Levi and Charles is never satisfactorily explained; he’s just around and is willing to do whatever Levi asks him to do.  This mostly involves running errands and helping Levi execute some of his more elaborate cons.  It’s kind of uncomfortable to watch this young black kid serving the rich Levi without question, but it does contribute to the absurd nature of the film in a decent way.

Special Features include audio commentary with members of the crew, outtakes, a making of featurette, and the original theatrical trailer.  It’s a good looking movie, and if you’re determined to pick it up, you should go for it on Blu-ray.

Available on Blu-ray and DVD from Well Go USA Entertainment on October 2.

About the Author:

Joe Sanders Joe Sanders is a podcaster, playwright, and college instructor in Kalamazoo, MI. He has a master's degree in playwriting and a bachelor's degree in creative writing from Western Michigan University, where he currently teaches thought and writing, and is the host of the Quote Unquote Guilty podcast, part of the Word Salad Network.
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