Mr. Woodcock (2007)
Mr. Woodcock (2007)

Genre: Comedy Running Time: 1 hr. 27 min.

Release Date: September 14th, 2007 MPAA Rating: PG-13

Director: Craig Gillespie Actors: Billy Bob Thornton, Seann William Scott, Susan Sarandon, Amy Poehler, Melissa Sagemiller, Ethan Suplee, Melissa Leo, Jennifer Aspen

 


 

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ndoubtedly funny in its unyielding approach to raunchy, physically-oriented humor, “Mr. Woodcock” keeps a consistently lighthearted tone even through to the unlikely conclusion, which helps prevent swaying perspectives about the many idiotic, irrational characters. It may be all in fun, but it’s always difficult to take a subject as serious as bullying and give it the right balance of humorous discomfort, cathartic retribution, and lesson-learning satisfaction. Fortunately, the two leads are a winning combination, inevitably summoning up spot-on, bad memories for some viewers and a sarcastic contention of high school rivalry for others.

John Farley (Seann William Scott) has become a fairly well-known author for an acclaimed self-help book. When he returns to his hometown in Nebraska to both visit his mother, Beverly (Susan Surandon), and to be presented with a highly prestigious award for his writing, he’s in for a shock. Instead of proud, celebratory supporters, he’s welcomed by the news that his hellishly strict and abusively domineering old gym teacher, Mr. Woodcock (Billy Bob Thornton), has been seeing his mother and they are engaged to be married. Desperate to break up this nightmarish union, John throws his own proverb of “leaving one’s past behind” out the window to begin a maniacal campaign aimed at demolishing the reputation of his former nemesis and constant source of schoolyard humiliation.

Several recent comedies fall into a plot trap in which the major conflict is so catastrophic that a feasible escape is too unbelievable – therefore leaving the conclusion to lie far beyond the boundaries of sensibility. While “Mr. Woodcock’s” setup is certainly not pure fantasy, it does successfully conclude the film in an agreeable manner, without stretching the limits of what can exist harmoniously in a sarcastic, slapstick venture. Nearly everything in the film is done to evoke laughs, so the steady, unfaltering tone of ephemeral seriousness is a rare, suitable quality to achieve.

“I didn’t ask a question – not even a rhetorical one.” The abuse poor young Farley endures sadly – or ironically – constitutes most of the hilariousness, with repeated juxtaposition of flashbacks to his childhood P.E. mistreatment greatly enhancing the jokey themes of revenge, acknowledgement/apology, and finally forgiveness. All of his attempts at catching Mr. Woodcock making irreparable mistakes end in embarrassment, not for John’s target but for himself, building to a phenomenally hysterical showdown at the location that started it all. Following the typical movie formula for repairing self-esteem and confidence, John is given opportunities for little wins against his opponent, though they incur losses in their midst (such as love interest Melissa Sagemiller), to teach additional lessons about becoming the very thing he hopes to vanquish. At the same time, the picture allows for some unusual scenes of reprisal – the out-of-line, applause-inducing reckonings that would generally unfold only in a dream sequence.

The comedic chemistry in “Mr. Woodcock” is what really lends to its distinctiveness from other run-of-the-mill pieces. Scott and Thornton employ perfectly clashing personalities, while zinging one-liners are delivered quite consistently from everyone in the cast – especially Amy Poehler, who does her best with cranky, angry spurts of absurd dialogue. But the promising premise, though ripe for all sorts of possibilities, stays as simplistically straightforward as possible. The lack of any big twists or turns may be a bigger shock than any dreamt up; at several points throughout the feature, viewers might expect Farley to suddenly wake up and realize he didn’t say or do the things he just did. The spontaneity of each character’s actions (particularly when it comes to fantastical behavior), makes “Mr. Woodcock” extremely enjoyable in the moment, but imparts few scenes with lasting wit. Nevertheless, it’s always amusing to see a film that has more funny moments than what was revealed in the theatrical trailer, along with an unintentional realism (toward heavy subject matter) and pleasing candidness (toward the cruelty of antagonization) that might make it linger just a bit longer.

– The Massie Twins

  • 6/10