The film delivers exactly what the title says – it is a boy’s adventures in public school.
But it should be noted that this boy is different. And he is only in public school for 3 months as he is home schooled by his possessive but loving mother.
Educated by his fiercely enthusiastic mother, Claire (Judy Greer), teenage Liam (Daniel Doheny) is the quintessential über-nerd, a wannabe physicist who is about to take his equivalency exam and head off to Cambridge, England – with his mother in tow. At the exam he spots Anastasia (Siobhan Williams), an enigmatic beauty who lost a leg to cancer. Instantly smitten, he changes his answers, hoping to flunk and have to redo his final semester in public school. Liam is given a crash course in high-school dynamics, ranging from bullying to hallway flirting, as he timidly pursues Anastasia. Mamma is livid!
The film gives home schooling credit with Liam learning everything and becoming a genius in all his subjects. This would imply the mother to be a genius as well. The film also acknowledges the shortcomings of home schooling, but only one of them – the social aspect. Home schoolers are socially impaired as they miss out one of the best things in school – playing with other kids and getting into trouble and having a greater perspective look on life. Other problems of home schooling are largely ignored such as how the home school teachers are only the mother and father and they can be fucked up. Whatever happens if their break up? The father figure of Liam is completely ignored in the film.
The film’s saving grace are its two lead actors who not only are credible in their characterizations but ease into their roles really well. Greer managers to be winning while possessive while Doheny captures nerdy and smart at the same time. One hope to see more of this rising star in the future. The confrontation scene between mother and son (inevitable, obviously, given the film’s theme) is kept smart and funny.
Rideout uses up beat music with dance beats to liven up his movie. The sequence with mother and son dancing together also reveals the bond both have for teach other despite their problems.
The film ends with a segment in a classroom in Cambridge, England. There is one exterior shot of the university and it is not a very convincing shot, myself having visited the University in Cambridge twice.
The question ultimately arises on whether one would believe home schooling works. Rideout’s film cleverly never takes any clear side.
ADVENTURES IN PUBLIC SCHOOL is a simple yet funny and interesting film that thankfully avoids all the toilet jokes normally found in films of this genre. Recommended!!
Adventures in Public School screens publicly on Friday, January 12 at 8:30pm and on Saturday, January 13 at 12:00pm at the TIFF Bell Lightbox as part of Canada’s Top Ten Film Festival, running January 12 to 21.