In the included commentary for 'General Education,' the filmmakers tell stories about screenings that were so filled with laughter that they drowned out certain lines of dialogue. After watching the movie, I'm now going to have to do something I'd hoped I would never have to do… I call shenanigans! Shenanigans, I say! You see, I just can't fathom any audience consistently laughing throughout this flick. Well, willingly at least. Poorly directed and painfully unfunny, the flick desperately tries to be a sweet, quirky indie comedy, but it utterly fails. It's flat, tedious, predictable, and filled with incredibly boring and annoying characters. I can profess to laughing exactly one time. So, once again, I must reiterate… shenanigans!
After being offered a tennis scholarship to college, high school senior Levi Collins (Chris Sheffield) finds out that he's actually failed a class and won't be able to graduate. Forced to go to summer school, he's tasked with a science project that will be worth 80% percent of his grade (if that's the case, why even bother having other assignments?). Also, he quickly falls in love with the first girl he sits next to (conveniently, she's quite pretty and is instantly attracted to him). While his father (Larry Miller) pressures him to continue with tennis, Levi realizes that he may want to pursue a different path. Joined by a motley crew of family and friends (including a thirteen year old boy sidekick who doesn't wear shoes), Levi attempts to finish summer school by successfully retrofitting his car to use vegetable oil. Will he graduate? Will he win the girl? Will he quit tennis? Will he get the little boy a pair of shoes? Will the audience actually care about any of this? I'll refrain from answering those first few, but that last one is easy. No. The answer is no.
The film is like a sloppy assemblage of all the unwanted leftovers from every similar high school comedy that's come before. It's 'Rushmore,' but without the wit, vision, or skill. It's 'Ferris Bueller,' but without the personality, humor, or entertainment value. It's 'Summer School,' but without… uh, Mark Harmon. There is not one shred of originality in the film's paper thin premise, and as hollow as the plot is, the movie can't even follow it properly. Listless and meandering, the narrative just sort of drifts through scene after scene without any real drive. Hell, the majority of the runtime isn't even set in summer school at all, and instead we spend most of the movie centered on Levi's monotonous family life. This unfocused approach would actually be all right if the individual sequences were at least funny or compelling on their own, but they're not. They're really not.
The climax does bring some semblance of tension and drama, but it's all too little too late and the results are predictable, schmaltzy, and extremely lazy. There are attempts at actual conflicts, but everything feels remarkably easy -- especially a ridiculously short montage where the gang engineers the vegetable fueled car. After about thirty seconds of on-screen work, the group happily looks over the fruits of their apparent labor and simply declares, "Wow, we did it!" Admittedly, I'm not sure how complicated retrofitting a car to accept vegetable oil as fuel is, but I have a hard time believing that a teenager, a burnout, a former tennis pro, and a shoeless little boy could pull it off in an afternoon -- and if they could, they should probably use those skills for something a little more eventful than a summer school assignment.
Even ignoring the poor scripting, the film just feels directionless -- and by that, I mean it feels like it has no director. While the movie has a competent look to it, there is an amateur, unassertive quality to the whole affair. The tone is wildly uneven and the film's attempts at being idiosyncratic are painful, clunky, and half-hearted. There is no actual voice here, and both the writing and directing feel soulless.
Secondary characters are all slightly exaggerated and broad, and by the time the movie has concluded, the film has collected a rather bizarre yet still somehow wholly mundane ensemble. The supporting cast does their best to be cute and eccentric, but they're still just stock personalities (the slacker, the douchebag, the pretty girl), and their efforts totally fall flat. To make matters even worse, the movie features one of the most unengaging, dull, and lifeless protagonists I've ever come across. Levi is just boring to watch, and Sheffield's approach to the role is painfully generic. Larry Miller and Janeane Garofalo show up to try and add some credibility to the proceedings but, unfortunately, while I like both performers, I'm not so sure they have a lot of credibility left to lend.
The comedy is uninspired and poorly executed, and since the tone is inconsistent, even potentially funny moments end up feeling out of place. Strange goofiness (like a scene where Levi disguises himself as a raccoon) are thrown into otherwise banal scenes, and the filmmakers never take the gags or scenarios far enough. The flick also frequently relies on quick flashbacks to silly situations (you know, like on 'Family Guy') but these random (and unfunny) events clash with the rest of the movie. There's just something "off" about the execution here, as if the filmmakers lacked the confidence to really go all-in with their material. Of course, considering how derivative and boring that material is, I can't blame them.
As I mentioned earlier, I laughed only once during the movie's mercifully short runtime (during a brief visual gag involving a shower). To be fair, that's not exactly a bad average for a serious, thought provoking drama that deals with weighty tragedy and the plight of the impoverished. The problem is, 'General Education' isn't a serious, thought provoking drama that deals with weighty tragedy and the plight of the impoverished. It's a dumb, eye-rolling comedy that deals with an idiot in a raccoon costume and a vegetable powered automobile. If I have to sit through a dumb, eye-rolling comedy that deals with an idiot in a raccoon costume and a vegetable powered automobile, I expect to at least laugh two -- nay, three times! Alas, that's just not the case here. An incompetent attempt at a quirky, coming-of-age comedy, the flick is just bad. It shamefully pillages from much better films, but inexplicably only steals the shitty parts. The whole movie lacks personality, originality, direction, and actual humor -- but, perhaps most importantly of all, star Chris Sheffield is no Mark Harmon! But then again, who is?
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Well Go USA brings 'General Education' to Blu-ray on a BD-25 disc packaged in a keepcase. After some skippable trailers the disc transitions to a standard menu. The packaging indicates that the release is Region A coded.
The movie is provided with a 1080p/AVC transfer in the 2.35:1 aspect ratio. While the cinematography is quite mundane, the image is crisp and bright, offering some pleasing visuals.
Shot on the Red One, the digital source is mostly clean and pristine. With that said, there is some light noise in dark shots and even some faint signs of compression in one scene (when Levi and Katie sit by the pool). The picture is very sharp, offering a nice sense of dimension and clarity with fine details visible in facial features and background textures. Colors are bright and vivid without becoming oversaturated and there is some nice pop. Contrast is high with intense, occasionally blown out whites, and black levels are deep and consistent.
From a technical perspective, 'General Education' looks quite good and even impressive at times. The content itself doesn't lead to terribly interesting visuals, but the transfer is bright, clean, and colorful
The audio is presented in an English DTS-HD MA 5.1 track with optional English subtitles. While nothing to get excited about, the mix suits the film well and can be surprisingly punchy.
Dialogue is clean, full, and well prioritized. The sound stage is relatively small, but key effects are spread directionally when appropriate. Likewise, surround use is restrained but implemented well, creating a solid sense of atmosphere. A scene featuring a tennis match effectively spreads the crowd's applause to the rears and features some exaggerated effects work that brings a palpable punch to every swing and hit. The film's playful score can be quite aggressive, and comes through with strong fidelity, separation, and an occasionally thumping low frequency rumble. Dynamics are solid, and while the majority of the movie is dialogue heavy, when there are livelier moments (including a fireworks explosion) the track demonstrates nice range.
It's not a real stunner, but the mix does a very nice job of complementing the film. Like the video, the movie itself doesn't really call for much, but the track is technically strong and even has a few lively, creative bursts.
Well Go USA has put together a small assortment of supplements, including a commentary and brief making of. All of the special features are presented in 1080p with LPCM 2.0 sound and no subtitle options.
An unfunny, unengaging, unoriginal attempt at sweet, quirky filmmaking, 'General Education' falls completely flat. The script is asinine, the tone is all over the place, the humor is uninspired, the performances are clunky, and the direction is exceedingly amateur. On the upside, the video and audio presentations are both good and are free of any major problems. Supplements are slim, but in this case that's probably a good thing. Really, after watching this film and listening to its delusional commentary, I'm again left with only one thing to say -- shenanigans!