Stuck in the relentlessly small and repressive town of Gavaldon, Sophie (Sophia Anne Caruso) and Agatha (Sofia Wylie) get swept away to the School for Good and Evil, a training school for fairytale heroes, destined to inspire humanity. But from the start, everything at the school seems off, and our desperate besties battle everything from high school cliques to ancient spirits to get to the bottom of it…
Netflix’s forays into fantasy have varied in success over the years – The Witcher and Shadow and Bone representing the best of it, while the less said about the aptly named Cursed, the better. The latter definitely suffered from an overstay of welcome, so the prospect of a 2-and-a-half-hour YA film, rather than a longer miniseries, was a welcome prospect for this magic nerd. Likewise, Paul Feig’s direction presents a similarly chequered history, from the highs of Bridesmaids and Ghostbusters (2016) to the lows of Last Christmas, so again, The School of Good and Evil really could fall either way.
What does shine is how much fun Feig creates on set – from the opening with Kit Young’s twin school founders to the pairing of Charlize Theron as “Evil” and Kerry Washington as “Good” headmistresses, respectively. The camp craziness of such a concept lends itself to exuberance that all these performers clearly enjoy, especially Theron, towering over students with a mane of red hair and an excellent black suit. It is also appreciated that in an era of increasing CGI, Feig has aimed for as much physical production design as possible. Taking inspiration from the Art Nouveau architecture that he saw while filming Spy in Hungary, and though kitschy at times, the desire for a strong aesthetic does come through in the school’s golden arches and high ceilings. The music budget goes into a few fun z-illenial needle drops like Olivia Rodrigo and Billie Eilish, but if anything, it just confuses the vibe further.
Wylie is innocent in this catastrophe, with Agatha’s continuous skepticism about the school being the most authentic part of an otherwise haphazard script. Amidst the confused and rushed mythology, her probing at, for example, the dark heart of what happens to students who fail is the most fascinating part of the film. But otherwise, what could have been a more gradual build-up of why fairy tales have turned rotten and shallow, mainly through the other students and professors like the spectacular Michelle Yeoh, is lost.
Bringing together the energy of a budget Harry Potter and Disney Channel’s Sky High sounds fun in theory, but the script is too paper-thin to hold up that ambition. For a tale whose ultimate moral is that binaries shouldn’t be rigidly enforced, The School for Good And Evil is wildly heteronormative throughout. This story needed more profound writing or an episodic approach to building up its characters and world. Instead, you’re left judging off what little you can see, which… isn’t an awful lot. Too long for a movie and too short for a show.
The School For Good And Evil is available to stream on Netflix
by Fatima Sheriff
Fatima (she/her) is a biomedical sciences graduate and aspiring science communicator. Literary adaptations with beautiful soundtracks call to her, but she enjoys anything with an original concept, witty writing, diverse casting or even the briefest appearance of Dan Stevens. Her favourite films do fluctuate but her love for Paddington 2 is perennial. She can be found on Letterboxd @sherifff and on Twitter here.