The School for Good and Evil: Almost Manages To Stick The Landing

By | January 4, 2023
The School for Good and Evil

The School for Good and Evil Has Lots To Like In It

The School for Good and Evil is a fun fantasy movie with a surprising amount of narrative depth while also being goofy, self-indulgent, and occasionally seriously questionable. I’ll spend some time ragging on it, mostly for its botched train wreck of an ending, but if you want an escapist movie full of fairy tale shenanigans, this has some promise. Read the whole review to see what I mean.

To start, we’ll be positive. What most impressed me about The School for Good and Evil is that it constantly subverts expectations without ruining the narrative. You could even call this film a Postmodern take on fairy tales. At so many points in the story, if you’re like me, you’ll go, “uh… that’s kind of messed up, even in fairy tale framing,” and then the movie agrees with you, turning the whole concept on its head. It brings a lot of nuance to the usual themes while never losing the love for its subgenre of choice.

Stereotypes And Cliches Get Routinely Shaken Up

Now, I don’t want to give away too many instances of the hat trick. It’ll ruin many of the best moments in The School for Good and Evil. But I can at least give you a little of what already sets this movie apart from other contenders. Our main characters are Sophie (played by Sophia Anne Caruso), a young girl obsessed with the idea of being a princess and living a fairy tale life, and Agatha (played by Sofia Wylie), who’s treated as a witch by everyone around her because her mom sells (admittedly very troubling) potions. But when they enter the school, they’re put in the exact opposite “moral alignments” than expected. From there, questions of ethics, destiny, empathy, and the nature of stories all get some exploration. The writing is often subtly sharp, well-structured, and doesn’t even beat you over the head with what it’s doing that often.

The School for Good and Evil

The Story Initially Trusts You To Get Its Messaging

No, the sheer lack of subtlety is relegated to everything else. I called The School for Good and Evil silly fun, and I meant it. Almost every character with any major focus is a trope played straight, subverted for fun or drama, or played for hit-or-miss comedy. The best fight scene in the whole movie is scored to “Toxic” covered by 2WEI (which slaps, by the way) without a hint of irony. The moment I knew for sure not to take the movie too seriously was when it indulged in one of its characters walking through various settings in elaborate dresses like a runway model for a long time.

And this wouldn’t have worked if every performance wasn’t committed to making this entertaining. Mugging, sneering, winking, and fourth wall breaks happen alongside characters screaming in pain, badass one-liners, and good on-camera crying. It’s all delivered with the same energy and builds an almost momentum to accepting whatever plot machination springs next.

The School for Good and Evil Moves At A Fun Pace

But it still skids right into a crash. The School for Good and Evil has plenty of stuff to find annoying, off-putting, and oddly reductive/judgmental for a movie that does such a good job subverting fairy tales’ more malignant tropes. But before I go meta-textual and plot-critical, I need to mention that the CGI is hit or miss. Sometimes, it looks good. The fight scenes are wonderful: using floaty, gravity-defying movements and splashy explosions to throw people even further around. But, other times, you can see how much it’s overlaid on some other background or object, and the immersion breaks. Now, to be clear, less professional CGI isn’t a death sentence. Plenty of lower-budget indie movies do fine with dodgier visuals. It’s the consistency that really throws it off. Suspension of disbelief often requires a baseline to be maintained. Basically: I loved how blood magic looks when it’s not raspberry jelly magic.

The School for Good and Evil

These Visuals Sometimes Completely Break Down

The actual story falls apart when it must play closer to very old fairy tale logic without subversion. I understand that old stories equate physical appearance directly to morality, but that’s obviously a deeply wrong viewpoint—and the movie doesn’t do enough to say otherwise. There’s a scene where a character’s face is turned into a stereotypical witch’s face, warts and all, and it feels out of left field (and uses harmful imagery). The School for Good and Evil has a weird and fraught relationship with esthetics, beauty standards, and physical appearance overall. One of our main characters has long, blond hair, and that’s treated with a level of reverence that’s just baffling, and those scenes and other similar scenes’ implications get worse and more confusing the longer you think about it.

And then there are the romance issues. Oh boy, does The School for Good and Evil not handle “romance”-related plotlines well. There are three distinct examples. The first is the most in your face when it happens. The movie has an on-screen kiss between a very old adult and a character that I’m unsure has her age ever confirmed, but seems around sixteen. It’s not treated as a good thing in the story or anything like that, but it’s still deeply uncomfortable to watch and catches you off guard.

The second is a love triangle. Both our mains have a crush on a sword-wielding prince. I don’t know why this plot needed to have a triangle—and it’s such a weak one. The actors do a good job given the material, getting across a lot with facial acting alone, but its problems are everywhere. It’s boring. Predictable. And they rush it on the back of some of the most cliché dialog choices I’ve heard recently. This movie is too long; I blame it almost entirely on these scenes.

The School for Good and Evil Wastes Tons Of Time

And, finally, this movie hints aggressively at a different romance and then does nothing with it. The School for Good and Evil seems to want you to think that Sophie and Agatha have romantic feelings for each other, and it’s hard not to notice. Furthermore, The School for Good and Evil spends a lot of time discussing “true love’s kiss” in various contexts and setting up them admitting feelings for each other. You can see the LGBTQ+ version of this plot’s resolution from a mile away. It would make much more sense than what we got. Certain scenes—especially moments of dialog—feel like they rewrote it to remove romantic implications. And what’s even odder about this is that even a smidge of research shows that Agatha and Sophie are sisters in the book this is based on.

Like I said at the top, the ending of this movie has so many problems, and it kills so much of the goodwill that the preceding campy fantasy escapist “magic school” fairy tale rewrite trope explosion that is The School for Good and Evil would’ve had. Between this and The House with A Clock in Its Walls, it seems like big-budget fantasy movies cannot handle the third act of what would’ve been charming projects.

And this is why I wanted you to read the whole review before deciding if you want to watch The School for Good and Evil. Its initial fun moments and great cast make the weird and the bad hit harder by contrast. There’s some clever writing in here, balanced by some seriously bad writing, and you have to go in with that expectation.

The School for Good and Evil

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