: The Good Student
I wanted to really like this. The premise of a nerdy high school history teacher who becomes a suspect in a pretty student’s disappearance intrigued me. I assumed this was going to be a commentary on people’s perceptions or way the law can convict an innocent man.
Instead, this has the wrong tone right from the start. The music is terrible throughout. It just doesn’t fit. It should have either been serious and dramatic or quirky, and instead it’s halfway in-between. The whole film is that way: part drama, part comedy, and neither work. It’s very uneven. The jokes fall flat and some of the characters and scenes are so over-the-top that it just can’t be taken as serious drama. There’s a ton of awkwardness. For instance, it’s suggested the teacher might have had a sexual relationship with the student — the public thinks so — and obviously that’s rape and an extremely serious and sensitive subject. Yet there’s a fellow teacher who brags about sleeping with his students in exchange for better grades. The way the film presents the guy it’s almost like it’s condoning it.
The tone the film should have had is something like Jawbreaker or Fargo. That fact that it didn’t I found frustrating throughout.
The pacing is also flawed. It’s very slow. The plot is a little awkward, too, going four or five different directions, yet not doing much with any of those storylines. For instance, there are hints dropped of various people who could have done the kidnapping and I expected those to be explored further as the film progressed, but they are not. It’s very odd.
But the film’s biggest mistakes are the ones that strain credibility. For one, the lonely teacher has a gorgeous next door neighbor who keeps hitting on him and he ignores her. There was no explanation for that and it needed one as without it you start reading more into the situation than is there.
An even dumber mistake is that there’s no explanation of how the kidnapped girl manages to survive the many days she is missing. (I don’t remember the final count of her absence, but I think it was a few weeks.) We are periodically shown shots of the girl tied up on a cot in a storage room. She’s apparently there the whole time. Other than one brief scene where her masked kidnapper brings her some food, there’s no info on how she lives for all that time. How would she go to the bathroom all tied up and left alone like that? Wouldn’t she have injuries like bed sores? Wouldn’t she try to escape or scream for help? I’ve seen other films that deal with the logistical problems of kidnapping, such as The Disappearance of Alice Creed, and it’s a complex problem (i.e. you have to untie the prisoner to use the facilities and they can try to escape). If she’d been missing for a day or two, I could believe it the way this film handled it, but she basically looks the same on day 20 as on day 1 and that was just absurd.
There are some decent aspects of the film. I liked the portrait of the teacher and the way they made him be both sympathetic and weird. He’s a loner, still grieving from his wife’s death years earlier, and he develops a crush on his student. He’s the last one to see her before she vanishes and thus becomes a suspect. He rents a porn tape and one of his other students who works at the video store notices and therefore think he’s a pervert. Yet he’s also a nice guy, pretty intelligent, and he genuinely cares for his students. His performance is good, but limited by the material.
There’s a “twist” at the end that isn’t that surprising, though it’s decent, but it comes way too late in the film to really have much impact. It raises more questions than it answers. I guess it’s supposed to be a “thinker” but it comes across as more of an “Oh.”
In the end, this is another one of those ideas with great potential, but poorly realized. I’d love to have seen how great directors like the Coen brothers would have done this same story. I bet they could have shot the exact same script and it would have been ten times better (even more if they fixed the script’s flaws).