General Education (2012)
Director: Tom Morris
Writers: Elliot Feld, Jaz Kalkat, and Tom Morris
Starring: Chris Sheffield, Maiara Walsh, Janeane Garofalo, and Larry Miller

The Plot: Levi (Chris Sheffield) is a tennis playing young man at Hill High, but he’s having a bit of trouble at school. Like many young men comedies of this sort, he nearly has an answer for every question… except when it comes to school. He has actually been given a Tennis Scholarship, but there is one roadblock standing in his way: he’s about to fail one of his classes. So, instead of telling his parents the truth, Levi intends to hide this from his parents and take summer school before moving on to college in the Fall. His college situation isn’t all that sunny either, because Levi wants to do things his own way, but his father is adamant about Levi enrolling in his own alma mater. So, Levi has only a few short months to pass his final class and figure out what he is going to do. Along the way he spends time with his 13 year old sidekick Charles, is challenged in a tennis tournament, and falls in love with a beautiful girl at school.

The Review
The independent film scene seems to split in two very large segments: one half is made up of low budget horror movies and the other side is made up of low budget teen comedies. There are other genres that are popular too, but they don’t seem to have the impact that these two do. The two genres do have one major thing in common: there’s usually a fifty-fifty chance that they will be fairly good or extremely awful. Every once in a while there is a movie that breaks the mold, becomes a brilliant hit on DVD, and defies all odds, but these things are few and far between. When it comes to indie teen comedies, many of these movies fall into every genre cliche that audiences have comes to expect. In most cases, such movies become lame attempts at reproducing either Van Wilder or American Pie. However, when a movie manages to paint outside the lines, I find myself more than willing to give it a fair shot. While sitting down to watch General Education, I was happy to discover that it certainly does try to be its own entity. While not a guaranteed success story, there’s a certain amount of charm to be found in this movie.

General Education, as one might expect, does heavily borrow from a number of teen comedies that have come before it. Thankfully, it somehow manages to avoid many of the more obvious cliches that these films are prone to delve into. General Education does well in avoiding many classifications within this genre. It isn’t a crass movie, so it avoids the comparisons to Porky’s. It isn’t a hipster indie comedy, and it’s hardly a pristine and moral film, so it can’t be seen as entirely family oriented. The movie does a good job in avoiding these simple classifications, and it turns out as a much more “general” comedy because of it. This can of course be seen as both a good and a bad thing. If nothing else, the movie can be seen as a fun little coming-of-age story. While not always successful, the movie turns out as an interesting little diversion that actually manages to entertain while not shooting for a lowest-common-denominator demographic.

Although General Education is definitely a low budget affair, it is far from being microbudget. The movie has a very polished look, but most of the professional sheen seems to come from the excellent cast that is assembled. Chris Sheffield, who plays the lead Levi Collins, is actually very suitable for his role here. He brings a charismatic, yet very humble, attitude that is refreshing for a movie like this. He is also surrounded by an accomplished cast of actors who certainly bring a level of prestige to the movie. Janeane Garofalo and Larry Miller play Levi’s parents, and although I expected their roles to be nothing better than cameos, these two actually have fairly strong roles in the film. Garofalo in particular attempts to put in a relatively strong dramatic performance, although it it seems a bit “off” in the context of the movie. Still, everyone acquits themselves very well.

If there are any problems with General Education, it comes down to the fact that the movie doesn’t know exactly what to do with itself. It dips into various different areas, but doesn’t have a clear driving force other than the romantic subplot that ties up a great number of loose ends. While this romantic subplot is very important, and one of the more interesting aspects of the movie (not something I usually say), but it isn’t enough to really carry the movie. Although the main plot does focus on a “race against the clock” with the character of Levi having to somehow pass his science class, there are a number of bait-and-switch moments that seem to steal some of the thunder from the main plot. There’s a tennis match that is supposed to, at the beginning of the film, have some sort of prominence in the plot, but it comes and it goes without any sort of dramatic tension. And while Levi is shown to be the antithesis of Ferris Bueller, who always had an answer for everything, the audience still never feels any danger that Levi will do anything that he doesn’t want to do. Culminating in a third act that becomes a classic “save the rec center”-esque plot device, the twists and turns unfortunately never combine to make anything special.

The Conclusion
There are a lot of great intentions at the heart of General Education, but it rarely stretches out and becomes anything phenomenal. A movie where the attachments are better than the main product, I still give it an okay recommendation. It’s worth checking out if you’re looking for a fun time or you’re a fan of any member of the cast. It gets a three out of five.

General Education has been released on DVD and Bluray via Wellgo USA and should be available in most major retail outlets.

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