Resembling a Disney Channel movie twisted just a bit off-center, General Education tells its growing-pains tale with an eagerness to be naughty. But Tom Morris' film (co-written with Elliot Feld and Jaz Kalkat) is no Ferris Bueller's Day Off. Rather than an exuberant bird-flip toward authority that at least does the courtesy of making diem-carping look fun, General Education plays more like an Amish teen in the first hours of Rumspringa: awkward and unsure what to do with himself.
Chris Sheffield stars as Levi Collins, a talented tennis player whose slacking in Earth Science class has earned him an "F" from a teacher he calls “that dyke Ms. Bradford” (Elaine Hendrix). Don't you just love him already? That "F" means Levi won't graduate, and all his dreams are about to go up in smoke. Certainly his parents just won't understand: Levi's dad Mayor Rich Collins (Larry Miller) won't shut up about how every Collins since 1925 has played tennis at Forestwood University, where Levi is supposed to enjoy a free-ride scholarship, and his chronically unhappy mother Gale (Janeane Garofalo) seems to be drifting through life, disconcertingly never without her wine glass. Levi gets one last shot: complete Ms. Bradford's summer school class, remediate his grade, and neither his parents nor Forestwood will ever be the wiser.
Though the film plays out in a pseudo-realistic style, none of this plays as even remotely credible. Levi goes to great lengths to hide the truth from his parents, including pulling strings to fake his graduation walk (sure, no problem) and lying about a non-existent summer job to cover his traipsing off to summer school. Okay, fine, but the movie pushes believability by needlessly establishing the summer class as being an absurdly short ten days long (what, you've never heard of a montage?) and allowing Levi to toy with the class' strict attendance policy as he runs off to tennis matches to keep his father happy. It all leads up to a climax in which (spoiler alert) the hero(?) begs, for the umpteenth time, to be cut slack, because—despite acting like an entitled brat to whom no rule ever applies—he completed the class' final project on his own time. Will Ms. Bradford and Hill High's Principal Lynch go for it? If you can't answer that question, I'm afraid you'll have to take my ten-day summer class in Bad High School Movies.
Some other characters kick around the movie: Levi's adoring thirteen-year-old, barefoot, black “sidekick” Charles (Skylan Brooks), Levi's lovelorn older brother Brian (Bobby Campo) and theatrical younger sister Emily (McKaley Miller), Levi's classmate and love interest Katie (Maiara Walsh), Levi's swaggering tennis nemesis Chad Worthington (Tom Maden), Levi's loser friends obsessed with Mexican fireworks (Harvey Guillen and Sean Przano), and a dude named "Shady Nick" (Seth Cassell). All are familiar types, and none get anything like a funny spin from the consistently flat screenplay or the unfortunate performers. Worst of all, the least generic element of General Education is its openly hostile attitude toward gay people. In addition to the casual "dyke" slur, there's reference to "a damn gay" and an offensive gay supporting character: a lisping university tennis scout (Federico Dordei) with an ascot and a predatory mien, who looks at Levi like a hound looks at a meaty bone. What have I learned? High school movies can be duller, more sour, and more irresponsible than previously thought possible.
General Education gets a solid Blu-ray special edition from Well Go USA. Warm colors find the transfer at its best, and well-calibrated contrast contributes to fine detail and a sense of depth; generally, the picture looks bright and tight. Similarly, the lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix pulls its weight for this humble comedy, with a bit of rear-channel environmental immersion and even some LFE oomph when trouble gets explosive.
The audio commentary with director, producers, and sound editor allows Jaz Kalkat, Kevin Liang, Elliot Feld, Tom Morris and Tim Hoogenakker to say their piece about the making of the film; it's hard to imagine many sitting through this (maybe when they're all famous?), but they do a game job of sharing production and post-production anecdotes.
Rounding out the disc are a “Gag Reel” (5:39, HD); “The Making of General Education” (10:56, HD), with lots of set footage and cast and crew interview clips; and the “Trailer” (1:44, HD).
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