The School of Good and Evil | Third Space

The School of Good and Evil

Better than a bite of a poisoned apple
Fri 21 Oct 2022

3 out of 5 stars

To reimagine the fairy tales of yesteryear has been a tradition that dates back to when the original words were written. Each nation has gone on to have its own interpretation of Cinderella, Snow White, and all the other stories of good versus evil. Soman Chainani adds his spin on old legends with his The School for Good and Evil book series as he taps into the lucrative realm of Young Adult (YA) fiction. Once director Paul Feig (Bridesmaids, Last Christmas) got ahold of the book, Netflix saw the potential of bringing this illustrious school to life.

As with all of the best fairy tales, this fantasy has its own narrator named Storian (voiced by Cate Blanchett), who introduces best friends, Sophie (Sophia Anne Caruso) and Agatha (Sofia Wylie). These two ostracised teenage girls live in the village of Gavaldon. Despite being bullied by many within the community, they have maintained their friendship throughout the years. Even though both live in different parts of the village and have opposing perspectives on life, one bond that keeps galvanising them is their love of books. One day at the local bookseller, they are told of the mythical place called the School for Good and Evil (SGE). This is where heroes and villains are trained together for their future adversarial fairy tale adventures.

Agatha is naturally sceptical, while the school becomes an obsession for Sophie, who dreams of one day being a princess. Since they hope to escape life in Gavaldon, Sophie writes a letter to the school with the wish to be taken there for training. One night, she tries to leave on her own to find this legendary academy. Yet, Agatha attempts to stop her until they are both whisked away to the hallowed halls of good and evil. Except they both are placed on different sides of the school, which they were not expecting. Agatha is on the side for good, and Sophie is landed on the darker side of the school. As they both attempt to right this wrong and even try to leave, the pair realise something is wrong with the school. There might be a reason for their placement within the school.

Paul Feig has been given an outlandish budget and fantastic cast to deliver a world of fairy tales that is familiar, but provides a fresh take on this genre. He has managed to take Soman Chainani’s characters, lifting them above the standard Disney rework, and take this into a mature and darker realm. Despite being sanitised for the target audience, the subtle twists deliver a few surprises in this modernisation of classic stories. Aided by a wealth of CGI effects and convincing performances from the lead actresses, this pedestrian retelling does give something enjoyable for the young adult market.

Sophia Anne Caruso and Sofia Wylie were convincing as committed friends. Even though this story has been told many times in films gone by, they are convincing in their roles. While it is Charlize Theron and Kerry Washington who provide the necessary support to give this the charismatic push to take it from mediocre to entertaining. They buoy this familiar plot line and convey joy within their over-the-top antics and characters. The rest of the ensemble took on their parts in convincing fashion, despite few rising above the standard coming-of-age storyline that this screenplay provides.

The School for Good and Evil has promise and may deem itself worthy of a sequel. No one would say this film breaks any new ground in this fairy tale world or would be the answer to true love's kiss. Still, it offers something more than a poisoned apple as a reward.

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REEL DIALOGUE: Am I good or bad? Yes!

As the title suggests, there is a fine line between good and evil. The battle between these two forces does become a bit muddled, because of the interconnected nature of the dark and light sides of the characters and spiritual realms. The question could be asked, who determines what is good or bad in this world?

If we are honest with ourselves, the only place to find the answer is outside ourselves and our limited viewpoints. This film gives us a glimpse into the dark side, but we know there are options to shed some light on the subject. The first step could be to engage with what God has to say about both good and evil.

Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! - Isaiah 5:20

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