I say it all the time, if you’ve read my blog you know that comedy is not exactly my favorite genre. It’s a hit or miss grouping of films that can be sophisticated and smart or absolutely stupid and nonsensical. But what happens when a movie falls in between? Enter “Night School”, a new feature staring Kevin Hart and the always hilarious Tiffany Haddish. A lot of times it’s the stars that make the movie but while star power does mean a lot in comedies the film also has to be interesting and funny. With that in mind “Night School” offered up a promise with a lot of potential to take full advantage of the capabilities of its leading man and lady. So, does this movie shine and do justice to the talent involved or is it just another humorless waste of time? Let’s look closer. This is my review of “Night School”.
WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
“Night School” focuses on Teddy Williams (Kevin Hart), who suffers from a learning disorder and refuses to take a state test in high school, dropping out and eventually becoming a successful BBQ grill salesman. Teddy has built a delicate financial system that allows him to appear wealthier than he really is. He feels this is why he has wooed the heart his well-off girlfriend Lisa (Megalyn Echikonwoke). After proposing to Lisa, Teddy inadvertently causes the store where he works to be destroyed leaving him unemployed. He is offered a job at his best friend’s financial firm, however first he must get his GED. Teddy returns to his old high school to attend night school where the classes are taught by an unorthodox but determined teacher named Carrie (Tiffany Haddish). In an attempt to pass the class with the least amount of effort possible and without coming to peace with his learning disorders Teddy bonds with his fellow night school students and embarks on several shenanigans while also trying to keep up the rouse of his wealth as he believes Lisa will leave him if she knew the truth.
As I said at the beginning a lot of times it’s the cast that is key to the success of a comedy film. “Night School” sports a capable pair of leading performers, but sadly the main star of the film fails to shine. I am of course talking about Kevin Hart. Hart portrays the main protagonist Teddy and while he does sometimes bring a laugh Teddy is just so unlikable even when we’re supposed to route for him. I don’t know if it’s the script or that Hart just felt like he didn’t have to try as hard, but Teddy is an incredibly boring character. Hart makes some attempts to try and humanize him, but I just felt like it’s a strange performance that never really finds a happy medium between to outrageous and too bland. That’s really a metaphor for this whole movie really but one thing at a time. We all know Kevin Hart can bring it. He was one of the best parts of “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” and showed his ability to dominate the screen in features like “Central Intelligence” and “Ride Along” but in “Night School” he just feels oddly bland. Honestly it feels like he’s too constrained most of the film and thus when he does let loose the oddball comedic moments don’t mesh with the rest of the film. Again, he’s not completely bad. His reaction after being blown out of the BBQ building is funny as hell. It’s just not Kevin Hart at his best and the movie suffers greatly for it.
Tiffany Haddish on the other hand is still a gem. I love this woman. She’s by far one of the best things to come out of comedy in a LONG time. While she’s not always on point she elevates “Night School” to a better film that it ever deserved to be. Haddish actually shows some heart in this film too. For whatever reason her character is more, I’ll say “real” than the trailers made her out to be. For example, the trailer teased her teaching night school is because she owes it to the court but the movie changed this to make her actually need the money and love the job which is a nice creative decision in my opinion. While her character provides some of best one liners and moments in the entire film she also provides some of the best lessons and revelations. Honestly, I really feel like this is what most teachers are like in the real world, nice and caring around their students but a totally different and sometimes more vulgar people when they’re not in the classroom. I’ll admit I had a lot of problems with this film but Haddish alone had me invested even if only a little bit. I just loved her character even if it’s not the most memorable version we could have gotten.
Ironically enough even the supporting cast outshines Hart in this movie. We have several big names and up-and-coming genre stars involved in this project. The always eccentric Rob Riggle plays a hilariously quirky classmate of Teddy’s while the likes of Anne Winters, Al Madrigal, Jacob Batalon, and Romany Malco are all quirky classmates that have their own established stories and identities. Unfortunately not enough of the film is focused on these people and when the movie does focus on them their stories are rushed through. Two standouts that DO get proper screen time are Taran Killam as Stewart (shown above), the school principal and former classmate of Teddy, and Mary Lynn Rajskub, a hardworking mother who is used to being a wallflower. Their performances are absolutely hilarious and there’s even a scene where the two work off of each other to great effect. I wanted to see MORE of these character or at least see better chemistry with Hart because honestly there’s very little despite the movie trying it’s hardest to develop some kind of emotional connection between them. As I said previously, Hart is not at his best in “Night School” and the whole film suffers for it. These actually funny and charming performances are all overshadowed by the fact that the star can’t seem to keep up so they get lost in the boredom of one of the most bland routines by one of the best comedians of this generation.
“Night School” has problems. I mean a LOT of problems as well as missed opportunities. But it’s not all bad and unwatchable. In addition to some great side characters that bring a few laughs there are some legitimately funny situations that play out that brought a chuckle or two for me when I was watching the film. Seeing Kevin Hart get blown out of a building and his subsequent reaction had me holding my side laughing while Rob Riggle failing to jump from a building and Taran Killam and Mary Lynn Rajskub’s joint scene are both good competition for funniest moment in the movie. It’s also amusing to see Tiffany Haddish beat the crap out of Kevin Hart as her character tries to help Teddy focus more and concentrate on the knowledge she knows he has. While the truly funny moments are few and far between there are is at least some legitimate humor which may be enough to satisfy those looking for the simplest of comedic offerings to offset the action, drama and horror that has dominated theater the past few months.
I can also appreciate that while I feel like “Night School” had more potential it does touch on some interesting social themes as well. For one Teddy suffers from an assortment of learning disorders and part of his story involves him having to come to grips with these disabilities. I feel like there’s another side story that could have been more developed with this theme, but I’ll touch on that later. For now I give the film credit for drawing attention to these disorders and showing that they’re not only normal, but they can be overcome. The story also touches subtly on the all-to-common stereotype that the man has to be the bread winner in the family since Teddy feels his well-off fiancée won’t be interested in him if she thinks he doesn’t have money. The film could have gone in a horrible direction with this narrative, confirming the fiancée to be materialistic, but instead Lisa doesn’t care about Teddy’s wealth touching on a pretty cool lesson that just because a man is less successful than the woman that doesn’t mean a relationship can’t work. For me part of what makes a comedy worth watching isn’t just the humor, it’s the ability of the film to touch on real-world concepts. After all that’s the point of comedy in general, whether it’s stand up or otherwise, to showcase the hypocrisies or underlying ironies of the world around us while also making us think. “Night School” doesn’t accomplish this completely, but it does touch on some unique and compelling concepts that I don’t think a lot of other movies have even tried to approach.
WHAT DIDN’T WORK
The problem is that “Night School” doesn’t go far enough with its attempt as social commentary leaving many potentially powerful story elements on the table or wrapping them up in a manner that leaves no real lasting impact on the viewer. I mentioned earlier that Teddy has learning disorders he decides not to address. This is partially because he has an overbearing father which could have made for a great message about how the pressures from the parents could affect the self-esteem of students with disabilities or disorders. Instead this is played off for laughs and barely worked into a final speech from Hart wasting the potential for a powerful theme and making Teddy’s dad out to be a true asshole. Each of Teddy’s classmates also have their own backstories and issues that, in the end, are barely touched upon and simply swept under the rug or resolved in the snap of a finger. Taran Killam’s character Stewart gets a chance to delve into his disposition for Teddy, but that too is summarized for mere minutes of film despite presenting its own great message that gets lost in the shuffle. I applaud “Night School” for tackling some serious issues with a comedic edge, but I think it may have bit off more than it can chew. What works in the film is drowned out by the obvious attempts to shoehorn in other social messages that are less developed. This creates a disorganized mess of a comedy that feels like it’s trying to do too much with as little effort as possible, just like it’s main character. How fitting and ironic is that!?
Despite its decent moments of levity and some great characters it can’t be ignored that “Night School” overall is not very funny. It’s a boring drag most of the time with tired, overused humor that fails to compliment the more legitimately funny moments of the film. At the end of the day I felt like it was an inferior film that tries too hard to do too much and never really reaches its full potential for a lot of reasons, many of which I’ve already covered. It’s insightful but lacks conviction. It’s more boring than fun. It’s not completely forgettable but it won’t go down as anywhere near the most memorable film for either of its stars. In a lot of way’s “Night School” can’t decide if it wants to play it safe or take a chance resulting in a film that drags too much, offers too little humor and totally wastes some amusing performances and great themes on a bland, poorly paced and poorly executed narrative that could have brought so much more in better hands.
While “Night School” isn’t necessarily unwatchable, it wastes a lot of great things it had going for it. It’s a unique concept that brings some powerful and relevant themes to the table and sports some memorable performances from its secondary cast and its top billed actress. Unfortunately, the star of the show, Kevin Hart, just can’t keep up for some reason. A lot of great themes are left unrealized making “Night School” feel like a bland attempt at a comedy that touches on socially relevant concepts. While at times it feels inspired I can say that that inspiration feels wasted on a poorly executed idea. “Night School” had the potential to be something unique and truly great, and in some ways that promise shines through, but in the end it’s an unfortunately bland comedy that’s not too funny, not as smart as it thinks it is and settles for playing it safe where it could have and should have truly owned what it wanted to say.