The Netflix fantasy epic The School for Good and Evil is long, too straight, and too real.
Now I understand the reason the school for Good and Evil was being developed for the longest time. The story – which is that is based on Soman Chainani’s 2013 novel of fantasy The School for Good and Evil is a massive and morally corrupted messy mess which, at the very least it feels like a “family-friendly” lesbian show that’s not aware of its own identity. In the worst case, it’s like a boring 147-minute rerun of the infamous Backstreet Boys music video, Everyone with a cast of people who appears to be dressed in sexy costumes, prosthetics, and 1997-quality CGI for the Netflix Halloween-themed ball. It’s as if that director Paul Feig ( Bridesmaids Spy) has taken every opportunity to demonstrate that he’s the wrong choice for the fairytale genre of YA romantic comedy. The complete lack of sensitivity and timing with the material is apparent in a scene that may be regarded as the most terrifying of the year. It’s when an unnamed School Headmaster playing no other actor than Laurence Fishburne, gleefully instructs two teenagers to locate the boy they want to kiss to show their worth. There’s more to the scene, I’ll admit, but the way he utters it made me glad they didn’t kiss instead.
I’m not sure how I’m telling you this, but this concept probably required getting the Marvel treatment. The kind of self-congratulatory, self-referential comedy where characters try to be humorous and serious all at the same time? That. I’m not a fan however if there was one film that needed to be more satirical and funny, this is it. The School for Good and Evil is a stage play with a world-building aspect, which brings to mind stories of hybrid meta-fiction such as Shrek. The title is a reference to a magical establishment where future heroes and villains from fairytales are trained so that the entire world can learn about the importance of choices and courage from these tales. The princess and knight-aspiring students at the School of Good are called “Evers,” and their director is the sweetly sickeningly adorable Prof. Dovey (Kerry Washington). The most popular pupil of theirs is King Arthur’s son. Arthur. The students who are demon-skeptics and witches from The Evil School are called “Nevers,” presided over by Lady Lesso (Charlize Theron). There is a goth-themed child of Captain Hook, the daughter of the Witch from Hansel and Gretel, and on. Nepotism is an issue here and I’m able to think of what the Hindi adaptation of the film might appear like.
The witty black-and-white allegory reaches into the racial background of the young actresses portraying the two main characters from the town of Gavaldon. Sophie (Sophia Anne Caruso) is a beautiful blonde whose mother’s death has convinced her that she was meant to be destined for higher things. She has hopes to become a fairytale princess one day. Agatha (Sofia Wylie) is a Black daughter of a witch who has failed. She has a crush on Sophie to death and beyond. she’s unable to stand the notion of Sophie being forced to leave the village. Due to Sophie’s insanity and a desire to be a part of the community, they are both airdropped (by the ominous bird Don’t ask) into a mythical school in a distant dimension. But there is an error during the admission procedure: Sophie is flung into the Evil School of misfits against her desires, while the unwilling Agatha is left looking at the arrogant ladies of The Good School. The kiss that was suggested by the schoolmaster”the kiss of love “the kiss of love that is real” seems to fix this mistake, if indeed there is one. The remainder of the film shows the two girls battling in their respective worlds and trying to make the possibility of switching. As expected, their bonds are testified and they are able to see that the lines between good and evil become blurred. Sophie is beginning to display her darker side, while Agatha contests the binary worldviews that are part of the curriculum.
In a film that focuses on teens and the legacy of storytelling and its own, The School for Good and Evil is extremely boring and emotionally dull. There’s so much going on that it’s sometimes like nothing’s happening, and the plot is shifting in a tangent. The world-building feels incongruous as if it were a poorly edited behind-the-scenes documentary from The Harry Potter movies. There’s a massive hero exam set in a dark forest and an incoherent fight between two groups of characters, the Evers as well as the Nevers in an auditorium that resembles an updated model that’s part of The Thriller setting and a twist on the two brothers who started the school that’s remarkably similar to the plot in the Sylvester Stallone-directed Samaritan and an appearance by Michelle Yeoh as a “beautification” teacher who is so brief that it’s like that character in The Whole World All at Once is just verse-jumping and playing with our minds.
The star of the film’s voiceover (Cate Blanchett). Sophia Anne Caruso spends half the film undergoing makeovers and returning as a different version of herself, walking around with the air of a teenager who’s watched too much Fashion TV when her parents are sleeping. Sofia Wylie is cooler than Agatha and the script isn’t so enthralled with her as the black girl. Charlize Theron seems to be making fun of all things that breathe (and does not) as Kerry Washington seems to be playing the role of the wives on screen in The Truman Show. Sometimes, the film is so bleak that it almost makes you sigh because of its absence of character and structure. It’s an illustration of the problem that is rooted in the Hollywood genre of fantasy, where lavish castings of stars as well as VFX budgets are usually used to help a film through. I can’t recall a single moment in this film that is genuine and passionate. Every frame is designed so carefully and risk-averse that its commentary on storytelling from the past and its ever-changing and omnipresent importance in our lives disappears into the debris of a school that could have been shut down in the midst of the pandemic. What about getting Tim Burton or Guillermo del Toro to be the director of the next movie? Better yet, how do you convince them to start the Film-making School of Good and Evil? If this film was one of the students there and was suspended from both sides because it was an undercover source of tropes.
The School for Good and Evil is streaming now on Netflix
Rahul Desai is an editor and film critic who is able to spend his free time traveling to all the locations in the films which he writes about.