THE SCHOOL FOR GOOD AND EVIL – Review by Rachel West

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Paul Feig’s The School For Good And Evil may not reinvent the old fairy tale spinning wheel, but there is enough here to keep viewers – especially tweens – engaged and entertained thanks to a strong take on female friendship.

Based on the novel by Soman Chainani, The School For Good And Evil introduces audiences to village misfits Sophie (Sophia Anna Caruso) and Agatha (Sofia Wylie), who share a seemingly unlikely bond of friendship. Blonde and fashion-conscious Sophie dreams of escaping her humdrum life to become the princess of her fairy tales, while the dark-haired, trouser-wearing Agatha is content to live her life as the daughter of the village witch as long as her best friend is by her side.

One night, under a blood red moon, a powerful force comes to collect both girls after Sophie wishes for an escape to the rumoured School for Good and Evil. With the fairy tale of her dreams about to begin, Sophie and Agatha quickly realize something is amiss, for Sophie is not deposited into the beautiful castle of the School for Good, but into the dark and dreary School for Evil run by the bewitching Lady Lesso (Charlize Theron). Meanwhile, Agatha, already sharing a bloodline with a supposed witch, finds herself amid the frilly and girly princess wannabes at the School for Good, headed up by Professor Dovey (Kerry Washington).

Convinced the headmaster (Laurence Fishburne) has made a mistake with their placements, he agrees to right any wrongs by that old storybook trope of one’s true love’s kiss. With a dark figure (Kit Young) threatening unrest and destruction, the bond of friendship is put to the test and Sophie and Agatha fight to find their happily ever after.

Feig once again returns to the theme of female friendship as he’s explored in Bridesmaids, A Simple Favor and The Heat. This time, Feig trains his eye to teenagers and armed with a refreshingly modern dialogue, these characters transcend their fairy tale aesthetics. Co-written by Feig and David Magee, the teens are quippy and anachronistic which ultimately makes their friendship feel lived in and the realest thing about this storybook realm, narrated by Cate Blanchett, no less.

Aside from themes of friendship, the underlying current of prejudice in the storyline is a good lesson for younger audience members who get a first-hand glimpse at what it means to judge a book by its cover. This theme is perfectly echoed in the visuals of the film, with its School for Good filled to the brim with Mean Girls in petticoats while the wicked School for Evil has some Goth-but-loyal witches among its students.

Naturally, the fashion-forward Feig has imbued his characters in a spectacular array of costumes. Costume designer Renee Ehrlich Kalfus who also dressed Blake Lively and Anna Kendrick in A Simple Favor, makes clothes work for the characters. As Sophie and Agatha evolve and become more in touch with who they truly are, their hair and clothing changes with them. So good are the fashion choices, costume changes elicited gasps of approval from a preview screening audience and more than one post-film conversation on “how to get the look”.

While The School For Good And Evil is largely successful, it is bogged down by an over-stuffed runtime at nearly two-and-a-half hours. Relying a little too heavily on CGI world-building and a backstory on the school that’s rather dull, the finished film could have benefitted with another editing pass to tighten up the story to deliver a more evenly-paced final product.

Co-starring Patti LuPone, Rachel Bloom, and Rob Delaney in too-small roles, there is no doubt the veteran actors in the movie are having a blast with this one.

A number of twists and turns will reward viewers, and though not without some familiar plotlines, The School for Good and Evil offers up enough newness and a soundtrack of Billie Eilish and Britney Spears to make this story feel fresh.

The School For Good And Evil is now streaming on Netflix.

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Rachel West

Rachel West is a Toronto-based producer for ET Canada with a B.A. in Film Studies. A Tomatometer-approved critic, she's a regular contributor to That Shelf. She's interviewed everyone from Michael Fassbender to Miss Piggy and has reported live from TIFF, the SAG Awards, Comic-Con, and the Golden Globes, among other events. Her film writing has appeared in publications including Globalnews.ca, The National Post, Cineplex Magazine, Letterboxd, and more. Find her on Twitter: @rachel_is_here