The real test of a screen actor’s mettle isn’t a coveted turn in an awards-bait role, or even an ambitious chance to “stretch” and do something you’ve never done as a performer.
It’s showing up for something that, whatever your original hopes, you have begun to realize is a big budget, high profile stinker.
So kudos to Oscar winner Charlize Theron, Emmy winner Kerry Washington, Oscar nominee-to-be Michelle Yeoh and screen icon Laurence Fishburne for not phoning it in on “The School of Good and Evil.”
Whatever the Netflix suits were thinking when they threw a ton of money at Paul Feig to co-write and direct this fantasy spoof — based on a novel by Soman Chainani — this much is clear. It’s been a LONG time since “Bridesmaids” made the TV’s “Freaks & Geeks” creator Hollywood’s hottest comic property. And every passing year has made that one look like more and more of a Feig fluke.
There’s this two-campus school in the land of stories, where “villains’” are educated to be “pure evil” and heroines and heroes instructed in the ways of good, “true love’s kiss” and all that.
One school is run by Theron, the other by Washington. Guess which on-the-nose role each landed.
Two BFFs, cast when Feig decreed he only wanted “to see women named SOPHIA for this” (Sofia Wylie and Sophia Anne Caruso) are fetched from their provincial town not far from the one Belle in “Beauty and the Beast” grew up in, and enrolled in the school.
But Agatha (Wylie), the girl the townsfolk all assumed is a witch, because her mother raised her to be one, is sure she’s been mistakenly plopped into the airy fairy School for Good with all the pretty-mean-girls-who-want-to-be-princesses are. And her vain blonde pal (Caruso) named Sophia — just to keep it straight — is certain she was meant for the School for Good, yet is for some reason parked in the School for Evil.
As The Schoolmaster (Fishburne) “never makes mistakes,” whatever will our young ladies do? After they get makeovers and start their lessons on how to experience “true love’s kiss” and maybe find their prince (Jamie Flatters)? After, of course, ridiculing the no-nonsense (and not at all funny) voice-over narrator, the “Storian” (Cate Blanchett).
“You know we can HEAR you, narrator! You weirdo!“
So there’s a lot of Hogwarts and a little “Enchanted” and a whiff of every wisearsed take on fairytales in the plot, and a taste of “Fantastic Beasts” in the impressive effects and exotic if not exactly interesting or amusing magical creatures. And there’s just a hint of “Bridesmaids” in the attempted tone and that one moment when Professor Anemone (Yeoh) blurts out an s-bomb.
These two and a half hours of tedium have a childish and girlish target audience as the film tries to both reinforce to “get dolled up and attract a mate” “princess” trope and flip it or at least ridicule it at the same time.
This was probably crap from its inception, but I didn’t read the book and couldn’t pick out novelist Soman Chainani’s cameo (he plays a teacher at the school) and get an idea of how sheepish or embarrassed or “Just glad that check cleared” he looked.
But Theron and Washington vamp this monstrosity up and almost never let on that they know this project didn’t really work out. That sets an example for the many younger players in the cast, who do their best to play more than this scene’s stunning costume.
Good for them. And let’s hope Netflix rewards that loyalty with a better project next time, although Theron might consider steering clear, considering her luck with this and that dog “The Old Guard” that Netflix built around her. Unless she needs the money.
Rating: PG-13, profanity, violence
Cast: Charlize Theron, Kerry Washington, Michelle Yeoh, Laurence Fishburne, Sofia Wylie, Sophia Anne Caruso, Jamie Flatters, Patti Lupone and the voice of Cate Blanchett
Credits: Directed by Paul Feig, scripted by David Magee and Paul Feig, based on the novel by Soman Chainani. A Netflix release.
Running time” 2:29