Anchor Bay // 2008 // 97 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // December 12th, 2008
No rules! No escape! No class!
You will either laugh hard and often at this movie or you will think it sucks. This is one of those comedies that will pit father against son, brother against brother.
At Geraldine Ferraro Elementary School, Principal Billings (Rob Corddry, The Daily Show) rules with an iron fist and, thanks to a lucrative embezzlement scheme, has attained a vast degree of material wealth, which he uses to pay students to follow him around playing theme music. Billings's endgame -- close down the school and make off with an ample amount of cash -- is in sight, but hapless Vice-Principal Tom Willoman (Jason Biggs, American Pie) is determined to turn things around. With the help of a drug-addled school board rep, a sociopathic gym teacher (Will Sasso, Mad TV), an apathetic math teacher, an eccentric turtle-loving art teacher, and a precious second-grader, he may do just that.
This is my kind of comedy: surreal, borderline nonsensical, and sophomoric, featuring a script packed full of bizarre lines like "I'm talking about love that is wet and smells a little." The comedic grist that Lower Learning grinds is reminiscent of Wet Hot American Summer and The State. You've got a second-grade teacher chastising her students for saying their times tables like "drunk retards"; Ed Helms looking at a horse in his office and telling it, "You're my only friend"; a sex-ed film starring animated genitalia; a principal stewing in a chocolate bath poured by his child workers; a gym teacher who puts together boxing matches between students; Eva Longoria huffing spray paint fumes to get high; and a man who tickles turtles with a cigarette lighter.
I dig that weirdness.
But the price for going down this comedy route -- this anything-goes, no-rules approach -- is that the film isn't anchored in any semblance of reality. Watching Lower Learning, I felt adrift in a sea of non-sequiturs and sight gags. While there's certainly a discomforting aspect to this sort of comedy post-modernism, the idea that pretty much anything can happen and the very real prospect that the filmmakers will go there makes for a fun, unpredictable time.
I put forth all that hooey to say: it's funny when the fat gym teacher shoots the guy in the butt with a shotgun.
Biggs's is, for all intents and purposes, the straight man. This guy has built a modest career on playing the "lovable loser" role and he's the audience's only entry point into the wacked-out world of Geraldine Ferraro Elementary. Still, he's not completely normal, what with making one of the students walk the railroad tracks as a punishment, and his hilarious flashback to his failed career as a hostage negotiator ("He's not dead. The bullet only grazed his skull." "He's dead to me."). Everyone surrounding him is pretty much bat-@#$% crazy. My favorite: Monica Potter as the disinterested divorcee teacher. Close second: Ed Helms using some of his Andy from The Office energy to become the most pathetic school board official ever put on film.
The DVD offers a clean 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer and a 5.1 surround mix. Extras include a robust making-of featurette and some funny deleted scenes.
Weird and disorienting, but funny throughout, Lower Learning won't appeal to everyone, but those people aren't cool.
Not Guilty. The court appreciates the use of the term "dolphin fetuses," which is criminally underused in modern filmmaking.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
* 2.40:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 6.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 97 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Deleted Scenes