Paul Feig’s Foray Into Fantasy Is A Beautiful But Excruciatingly Slow Mess

Jan 10, 2023

Inspired by the young adult novel of the same name by Soman Chainani, the latest from Paul Feig, “The School for Good and Evil,” is a major departure for the director most known for his riotous comedies like “Spy” and “Bridesmaids“. Co-written by Feig and David Magee (“Mary Poppins Returns”), the magical adventure, unfortunately, feels each excruciatingly slow minute of its two-and-a-half-hour-long runtime. 
Set in a place long ago (that feels distinctly like medieval England, yet somehow everyone speaks with a hip, modern parlance), best friends and social outcasts Sophie (Sophia Anne Caruso) and Agatha (Sofia Wylie) hate their dreary village, preferring to spend their time reading about fairytale adventures in books. When the shopkeeper (Patti LuPone) tells them of the mythical, titular school, Sophie becomes determined to gain admittance so she can be the princess she’s always known she was. Agatha, who lives with her mother by the graveyard, has long been suspected of practicing witchcraft, yet has no desire to attend the school. When Sophie’s dream comes true thanks to the magic of a wish tree, Agatha is dragged along as well. When a mix-up lands the girls in what they think is the wrong school (Sophie in evil, making her a “Never”, Agatha in good, making her an “Ever”), they’re inadvertently drawn into a centuries-long battle between the two brothers who founded the two schools (Kit Young, Laurence Fishburne). 
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If that sounds like a lot, it’s because it is. Like “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” this film has the heavy duty of laying out an entire story world filled with a long history and many, many rules, while also setting up the groundwork for a multi-film series should it be successful. There are currently six novels plus a companion manual in Chainani’s book series. 
Certain aspects of the world-building are done wonderfully, like Renee Ehrlich Kalfus’s stunning costumes. The girls in the school for good all wear gorgeous, ornate gowns made in colors described as “watermelon” and “blush.” While the evil kids all look like a Hot Topic wet dream. As revealed in early first-look photos, Charlize Theron’s wild orange coif is as amazing as it appeared, while Kerry Washington at one point sports an ensemble clearly inspired by Beyoncé’s “Bow Down” video. 
If only the actresses were given parts worthy of their talent. Both are mostly relegated to dialogue-filled performances heavy on exposition or storybook wisdom (I don’t even want to mention how the film wastes Michelle Yeoh because it hurts too much). Although Theron does have one scene where she taps into the kind of unbridled rage you’d want to see a professor at a school for evil to possess. Washington dances with the kind of subversive sugary-sweet brilliance Keira Knightley showed as the Sugar Plum Fairy in “The Nutcracker and the Four Realms,” but unfortunately her role as written never gives her the same opportunity to stretch her chops the way Knightley did. 
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Both Caruso and Wylie are wonderful in roles that will surely be breakouts for both. Caruso’s is the flashier role, oscillating between vapid princess and vain villainess with ease. While Wylie has the harder task of making radical empathy cinematically engaging. The film works best when it’s exploring the dynamics between these two and the power of true love shared between friends. However, it often tips into middle-of-the-road rhetoric when discussing how “real evil” is nothing compared to the differences found in fairytale versions of good and evil. 
It also goes out of its way to be surface-level inclusive, with princesses from across the globe – and even one in a wheelchair. But none of these girls are given much to do beyond supporting the head mean girl, Beatrix (Holly Sturton). In fact, we only see the princess in a wheelchair once and we never find out what her name is. This is not what true inclusivity looks like.
Also, despite insisting that all myths from around the world – including Hercules, Sinbad, and El Cid – were all real stories recorded by the Storian (a magical quill voiced by Cate Blanchett), we only meet characters who are descendants of Euro-centric fairy tales like King Arthur’s son, Tedros (Jamie Flatters, “Avatar: The Way of Water”), and Captain Hook’s son, Hort (Earl Cave, “True History of the Kelly Gang”). Why bother mentioning all the world’s stories and still pattern your entire world after mythical Britain?
Engineered to engender the unconditional love of Gen Z, the soundtrack contains on-the-nose needle drops like Olivia Rodrigo’s “Brutal” and Billie Eilish’s “You Should See Me In A Crown” to underscore the poorly executed action set pieces. We are truly in the age of terrible CGI. I need an eleven-page report on why digital fire just looks so, so bad in everything lately. 
Mildly diverting from time to time due to its beautiful production design, “The School for Good and Evil” is mostly an unmitigated slog, filled with underdeveloped characters, absolutely terrible dialogue, and a world that feels both completely ripped off from better things and unnecessarily complex. Maybe the gamble will pay off and this will be the next big young adult fantasy franchise despite everything that doesn’t work. I just hope either way Paul Feig jumps ship and goes back to working in a genre that better plays to his strong suits. [C-]
“The School for Good and Evil” is now available on Netflix.

Disclaimer: This story is auto-aggregated by a computer program and has not been created or edited by filmibee.
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