The School for Good and Evil (Fantasy, Comedy, Drama) [Based on Book] (2022)
Director: Paul Feig
Writer: Paul Feig, David Magee, Soman Chainani (Based on Book by)
Stars: Sophia Anne Caruso, Sofia Wylie, Kit Young, Kerry Washington
Two best friends live in the village of Gavaldon, one sulky and presumed to be a witch, the other illusory, dreaming of a life as a fairy-tale princess. Neither expected their lives to change forever as they find themselves transported to a magical school of heroes, villains, princes and princesses.
Based on Soman Chainani’s first book in the ‘’The School for Good and Evil’’ series, the film is set in a world of fairy tales and magic, unlike we’re familiar with. Paul Feig was convinced to direct, having to be convinced due to the film’s genre and style. Chainani was heavily involved in the adaptation and stated he required the motion picture to be different from the book series, changing key moments and plot points to make it appear fresh even for avid readers. In production since 2011, it was seemingly a struggle to create the film, at least before Netflix purchased the rights. It was finally Produced by Roth/Kirschenbaum Films, Feigco Entertainment and Jane Startz Productions while distributed by Netflix.
Once upon a time, twin brothers Rhian and Rafal founded a mystical school separated by two sides — good and evil. Over time Rafal grew dissatisfied and attacked his brother Rhian using forbidden blood magic. Years after these events, unlikely friends Sophie and Agatha grow weary of their hometown. As Sophie hears of a mystical school of fairy tales, she writes a letter to flee from her current life, hopefully. Agatha soon finds Sophie in the woods near their town and tries to intervene, which leads them both to get captured by a giant bird-like creature. Yet, the fate they had presumed switches as the cynical Agatha is placed on the side of good, and the wistful Sophie is placed on the side of evil.
In traditional fairy tales, the sides are clear — good and evil. Chainani, in his book and now film, turns this on its head. Wylie’s Agatha and Caruso’s Sophie discover themselves while exploring this magical institution, and conflicting interests and true love test their friendship. Both Paul Feig and the writers attempt to diverge from Disney and the indisputable ‘’Harry Potter’’ comparison. Yet, that’s quite troublesome.
It’s just hard for a writer to take such clear inspiration from well-known sources and then remaining unique in certain facets. Even more so when trying to convince an intelligent audience that it’s not what they’ve seen or read before. This is a severe issue for Chainani and Feig to adapt alongside David Magee. It’s meant as a deeper (and darker) tale than to be taken at face value, but how much of that is genuinely palpable — compared to J.K. Rowling’s work. Our fabled villain, in this case, is Rafal, presumably killing his brother with forbidden blood magic; it sounds a lot like the dark arts. There are countless examples, but this world, while magical like the Potter-verse, is based on fairy tales, and the supposed sons and daughters of heroes like Prince Charming and King Arthur make appearances. Something meant to be wildly different from known materials still heavily builds on the foundations of giants.
The enchanted embellishment of fairy tales and the wizarding world has intriguing factors, such as the contrast depicted in Sophie, Agatha and even their classmates. But, there’s an issue that stands when ‘’The School for Good and Evil’’ oversaturates the primary narrative element so much it becomes unavoidable in every scene. Honestly, enjoying certain features, it never entirely passes beyond the generic with an air of pompousness in telling its supposedly epic and innovative story. Over the years, we’ve seen films, series, and other creative outlets evolve into something more inclusive. Generally, this can be seen as a positive trait in the creative medium, ‘’The School for Good and Evil’’ is an older generation’s film, perhaps due to production starting in another decade. Disney’s tale’s about Cinderella and Snow White are similar, but when adapting such fables, why stick with the gender roles of the time, while the ladies have beauty class, the princes are training in suits of armour. It’s a film filled to the brim with poorly-aged stereotypes like this.
‘’The School for Good and Evil’’ has an impressive cast and some narrative elements that come through as witty and sharp. But, other characteristics should be left in the past, just like the fairy tales that inspired it. But perhaps my most significant grievance, like many other mediocre and tediously adapted screenplays, is the tease of a sequel at the end.
The school for bad and worse.