I like to keep as much of an open mind as possible when it comes to film, which has become increasingly difficult in an era where, like it or not, Rotten Tomatoes has influenced our perceptions in one way or another. So this week I decided to branch out a little, and go for a film that is outside of my usual cinematic fare. Variety is the spice of life, after all. Yet, after watching 2017’s Adventures in Public School, there were times where it felt more like spice in my eyes, or rather, I wished there was spice in my eyes.
I understand that this comes across as quite harsh, but such a description is warranted by the wildly misguided relationship between Liam (Daniel Doheny) and his mother Claire (Judy Greer). They are deliberately portrayed as being smotheringly close (we are constantly reminded that they are best friends), with their relationship intended as a vehicle for comedy and character growth, but instead it comes off as intensely weird and uncomfortable, a sensation that too often overrides any humour present, or almost anything else worth note for that matter.
There are actually some moments so off-putting that it brought to mind the twisted Australian horror film The Loved Ones (which I recommend checking out), but without all the physical mutilation; the only thing being mutilated here is any sense of taste.
I do feel a degree of guilt for the harshness of my words here, because there are ultimately no ill-intentions in its execution, and there is a degree of notable craftsmanship on display. The talent in front of the camera is quite notable, with the likes of Greer, Doheny and comedian Russell Peters all doing their best to hold things together, which results in some sincere shining moments, most notably a fleeting moment of comedic brilliance involving liberal use of the word fuck.
In fact, I have seen comedies that elicit no more than a few of chuckles from me, while still handing out a positive review, but this particular scene was laugh-out-loud funny, and I only wish I saw more of this innovation.
The cinematography is without doubt the film’s most intriguing aspect, as it certainly elevates Adventures in Public School above its contemporaries with some engaging shots whose design inherently draw the eye. Unfortunately, the virtuosic cinematography is at odds with what is actually happening onscreen, as this bring me full circle to my opening comments on the woes of the relationship between the film’s two central characters.
Their frequently painful interactions are exacerbated by its occasionally clumsy writing, where most attempts at verbal comedy are stretched so thin that I wondered how they arrived at their respective punchlines. Other times, I wasn’t sure if a scene was intentionally awkward, or just a weak attempt at humour.
I simply cannot look past Adventures in Public School’s glaring flaws, even in spite of the best efforts from director Kyle Rideout and his cast. Like most films in its teen comedy genre, there is a sense of innocent predictability to its story, but the actions and reactions of its characters can be the most unpredictable aspects of the film, and not in a good way. Adventures in Public School is a weak comedy with little understanding of its own characters, but it is nonetheless indicative of Rideout’s eye for striking cinematography, paired with intermittent bursts of flare that could lead to promise if honed down the line.