Where I Watched It: Netflix
Audio Description Provided By: International Digital Center
Written By: Betty Capone
Narrated By: Sri Gordon
Netflix is obviously chasing the next big YA adaptation, as they are throwing everything they have at this super similar, but just different enough adventure that you may have felt like you’ve seen before. To do this, they recruited Paul Feig, and based on his previous work, ranging from Freaks and Geeks to Bridesmaids and Ghostbusters, Feig’s style is entirely not here. This feels more like a film directed by perhaps Ava Duvernay, as I felt more of her Wrinkle In Time sensibilities here. That was her stepping out of her comfort zone, and that film ended up not being very good. This is Feig stepping out of his, and this also isn’t great.
The film starts off in a way i can’t quite describe except to say that it felt like a TV Movie. Later on, it does take on a cinematic feel, but the beginning is so abrupt (likely due to the already bloated runtime), that we aren’t given that kind of slow beginning that really shows us the world they live in, which works so well for the successful YA adaptations like Harry Potter, Twilight, The Hunger Games, and Divergent. This just introduces you to, with lots of exposition, a pair of girls who are friends. One wants to be a princess, the other keeps being accused of being a witch. But, just like Wicked, they are best friends forever.
Then, after wishing really really hard, they are swept off to a magical place where they see a Hogwarts type school (which you should be able to figure out the name of this school as it is the title of the film), and the girls get dropped into their specific places, with it being a fish out of water choice. The seemingly obvious choice for good is dropped into evil, and the budding witch is dropped in good.
This is where they find out that the school trains heroes and villains to be in their own stories, and many of the characters in the film are kids of a more famous hero or villain. Where did we see this already? Disney’s Descendants. Thank God, this one isn’t a musical.
The girls protest, they try to get switched, they try to go home, but to no avail. They must attend classes and learn how to be good or evil. Failure to do so will turn them into a sidekick. Like a talking teacup.So they don’t get their own story, but they become a footnote in someone else’s.
And from there, the film pushes on. The headmistresses of the schools are played by Kerry Washington and Charlize Theron, in largely thankless roles that add star power. We’ve seen Theron do this evil thing before, but there was something about Washington’s performance that never quite felt in the pocket for me. It was just a bit off. So was Laurence Fishburne, who really just seemed like he was collecting a paycheck, as the main keeper overseeing both schools in a neutral sort of way.
Like Harry Potter had a rather expansive cast of students (especially if you read the books), The School For Good and Evil tries to do the same thing, but this film just has a lot it needs to accomplish, and a lot of characters come across underdeveloped.
The audio description does try to capture the magic, explaining all the clearly fantasy elements, but it’s not always enough. I think about my sighted days, and having seen all eight Harry Potter films (and actually, all Hunger Games, all available Divergent films, Twilight, and even Disney’s Descendents) I know that style is very much a factor in these films. Whether presenting a fantasy work, or a dystopian future, every single film has elements of extreme style to attract you visually to their works. This likely has lots of amazing costumes, terrific hair and makeup, and even probably the cinematographer made choices that will visually tie this film and its eventual sequels together. Basically, with a slight exception in the specific style of Alfonso Cuaron, all the Harry Potter films really look the same. All the Twilight films look the same. They might be wearing a lot of modern clothes, but the film constantly has this cloudy rainy atmosphere, with sort of a blueish grayish tint that connects all the films.
We get to know who these kids are, when they enter and exit, and when they make some reactionary facial expressions, but for a film centered around fairy tale a story book characters at a magical school, I can’t help but feel like something is missing.
At the end of the day, this film is long. It takes a lot of elements from other films. Whatever the novel was that they adapted, however it plays out, this whole film feels like exposition. It feels like a homework assignment so that we can love the sequel. if Netflix doesn’t stick with this series, then it was all for naught. This is the kind of film that when you make it all about explaining the world and the rules, you’re setting yourself up for a much more interesting sequel. As it stands, i think maybe your tweens might like it, but it really only got me halfway to Neverland.
Final Grade: C+