The School for Good, Evil and Meh

When do you know you’ve settled in for a truly terrible film? Is it when the movie starts with a bunch of flashbacks and then some more flashbacks within those over a long voiceover?

Is it when the movie throws so much information at you that you end up more confused than when you started watching it? Or is it when the film’s two-and-a-half-hour runtime leaves you bored, exhausted, and questioning your life decisions, wondering why you even decided to watch the movie in the first place when you could’ve just enjoyed your day scrolling through social media?

“The School for Good and Evil” is Netflix’s bold foray into the magical realm of fantasy, and it features all this and more.

It’s no secret why Hollywood keeps digging in the Novel World’s Young Adult (YA) section for story ideas. The YA franchise industry is booming. YA series titles tend to do quite well when they become famous.

Suppose you’re a movie studio or streaming service with something like “Harry Potter” or “The Hunger Games” on your slate, this will likely generate revenue for years.

“The School for Good and Evil” is a critically acclaimed YA book series by Soman Chainani. This Netflix film is an adaptation of the first book in its series.

The project’s actual cost is being kept secret, but it’s safe to say it was not small. However, the heads of the streaming service probably thought it was a good investment, as it has the potential to spawn numerous sequels and associated merchandising if it is popular with its target audience of preteens and teenagers.

However, the odds of this gamble paying off are low, as “The School for Good and Evil” can be described as a bootleg Hogwarts in spite of the movie’s budget.

The story begins with Sophie (Sophia Anne Caruso) and Agatha (Sophia Wylie), two outcasts who have formed an unlikely friendship in the small town of Gavaldon.

Sophie, a golden-haired seamstress, wishes to leave her mundane life behind and become a princess, while Agatha, with her dark aesthetic and eccentric mother, has all the makings of an actual witch.

Under the glow of the crimson moon, they are whisked away by an unseen force to the origin of all great fables: the School for Good and Evil. But right away, things don’t seem quite right: Agatha is sent to the School of Good, led by the cheerful and kind Professor Dovey (Kerry Washington), while Sophie is sent to the School of Evil, where she is taught by the glamorous and acid-tongued Lady Lesso (Charlize Theron).

Only a kiss from true love, says the Schoolmaster (Laurence Fishburne), will set the girls free to attend the schools best suited to them, away from the sons of the Wicked Witch (Freya Parks), Captain Hook (Earl Cave) and King Arthur (Jamie Flatters).

The only way to a happy ending is to survive their real-life fairytale, which becomes increasingly difficult when a shadowy and dangerous figure (Kit Young) with mysterious ties to Sophie reemerges and threatens to destroy the school and the world beyond.

It’s surprisingly difficult to find the positive aspects of this film. Some of the acting is very dubious; the CGI is often ugly, the visuals are often chaotic, the dialogue is incredibly cheesy, the magic is over-explained and ill-defined, the make-up equates facial disfigurement with moral wickedness, and the runtime is unbearable: two and a half hours.

The question of why director Paul Feig would support it remains puzzling. It’s not surprising that he’s a gifted filmmaker with limitless potential. In his longtime support of women and emphasis on female characters, he has left behind the only tangible trace of his filmmaking voice.

The overall outcome could be better, not in terms of its elaborate costumes, elaborate sets, and avant-grade cinematography, but as far as the story and general writing are concerned, it’s already incredibly kind to say that the film is, well, it’s just not it. S