Tom Morris’s General Education, a tepid, well-meaning saga of high school woes, could be screened immediately on the Disney Channel with nary a cut, and that’s the problem. The whole enterprise lacks a soupcon of edginess, a modicum of wit, or an iota of originality.
Endlessly insipidity aside, the screenplay by Elliot Feld, Jaz Kalkat, and Morris was clearly pulled together for no other reason than the need for a bunch of buddies to start calling themselves “filmmakers” -- at least that’s how the super-clichéd, slightly offensive final product comes off. Well, you might not be offended if you don’t object to viewing a screaming queen of a pederastic college recruiter endlessly hitting on young men. Then there’s Charles (Skylan Brooks), an often barefooted, black thirteen-year old playing Stepin Fetchit to the film’s teen hero. No shoes? He runs faster that way. The young man does swim, however, so there goes that stereotype.
But what’s surprising about this blathering tale of Levi Collins (Chris Sheffield), a young man who will not get into college unless he passes a science course in summer school, is how well and affably acted it is for the most part. Morris clearly knows how to direct (when he restrains himself) and Danielle Aufiero and Amber Horn clearly know how to cast. With the exceptions of the one-note, unfunny Larry Miller as Levi’s mayor dad and the constantly mugging yet never acting Tom Maden as the obnoxious bad boy, the cast is applaudable. Sheffield, Brooks, Bobby Campo as his lovesick brother, McKaley Miller as his mime-oriented sister, and Maiara Walsh as the object of Levi’s affection all rise far above the material they’ve been handed. Janeane Garofalo is especially fine as the alcoholic mom who feels she’s being abandoned by her aging brood and preoccupied spouse.
Yet with its hackneyed outlook and lack of a moral core or a purpose, General Education is little more than a defective episode of Saved by the Bell. - Brandon Judell
Mr. Judell is currently teaching "The Arts in New York City," "American Jewish Theater," and "Theater of the Sixties" at The City College of New York and is Coordinator of The Simon H. Rifkind Center. He has written on film for The Village Voice, indieWire.com, The New York Daily News, Soho Style, and The Advocate, and is anthologized in Cynthia Fuchs's Spike Lee Interviews (University Press of Mississippi) and John Preston's A Member of the Family (Dutton). He is also a member of the performance/writing group FlashPoint.