The School For Good And Evil (2022)

Director: Paul Feig

Running Time: 148 Minutes

Certificate: 12

Starring: Sophia Anne Caruso, Sofia Wylie, Kerry Washington, Charlize Theron, Laurence Fishburne, Michelle Yeoh, Jamie Flatters, Kit Young, Peter Serafinowicz, Rob Delaney, Mark Heap, Patti LuPone, Rachel Bloom

Based on the best-selling series by Soman Chainani, co-writer/director Paul Feig brings the fantasy fairy-tale to screen in feature-length form. Living within a judgmental town, Sophie (Sophia Anne Caruso) believes she's destined to become a princess while best-friend Agatha (Sofia Wylie) is considered a witch by the villagers. The duo become enrolled within an enchanted school for aspiring heroes and villains, where a reversal of fortune puts the pair's friendship to the test.

Living a Cinderella style life where she cleans for her family, including an overbearing stepmother, Sophie dreams of an escape where her dreams can flourish. Her rock in this hateful town is Agatha, looking after her mother while suffering regular ridicule. They're bonded by a disdain for the closed-minded townsfolk, and the performers make it easy to believe in their friendship and how a change in circumstances alters things.

When they're transported to the schools, the girls are surprised to discover their placements. Sophie is shocked that she's been enrolled at the evil school, with Caruso effortlessly conveying her character's picture-perfect expectations being shattered. Occurring simultaneously is Agatha's enlistment in the good school, where she must content with dresses and talk about finding her prince. Wylie captures how Agatha doesn't want to be part of this fairy-tale lifestyle, wishing to return to the life she was so content with.

Familiar genre tropes appear as expected, including a rivalry between schools stemming from the underdog losing for many years. In-universe terminology greets viewers, as the students are divided into Evers and Nevers depending on whether their allegiance traditionally receives happy endings, while the lead duo are set apart by their status as Readers, due to coming from a world where fairy-tales are mere stories to read.

David Magee's screenplay with Feig approaches this fantastical world with questions that feel left over from revisiting childhood tales. It interrogates the idea of what's truly good, when so many characterized as such believe in a self-centered ideal of perfection instead of helping others. When the punishment for failing lessons results in horrible fates, and the potential princesses are archetypal mean girls, there's something rotten within this binary system.

In terms of capturing viewers imaginations, there's little to set this world apart from other Young Adult stories as it's components feel so uninspired. More successful is a look into the lessons, where the evil students are taught how lacking vanity inspires them to persevere through intelligence, contrasted with the good-school teaching classes how to properly smile. In their opposing roles as school professors, Charlize Theron and Kerry Washington are having a blast while Michelle Yeoh offers fun in her short appearance.

What's most curious is why Feig was the director to make this. For somebody who's directed hilarious comedies such as Spy and Bridesmaids, there's something wrong with this film lacking laughs. Instead, there's a plot which offers few surprises while falling into tired cliches, such as the misunderstanding which drives a wedge between friends or the cheesy lines which become needlessly repeated. It all leads to a lackluster third-act where Agatha feels pushed aside for the unexciting battles. Most of all, the runtime feels unnecessarily long and unable to keep hold of ones attention. A shame, as a leaner runtime could've tightened up this entertaining yet familiar fantasy for younger audiences.

The School For Good And Evil is available now on Netflix