New Line // 2007 // 88 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // January 25th, 2008
Letting go of your past is hard...especially when it's dating your mom.
Low expectations on my part going into this. Does a comedic surprise await me?
When he was young and awkward and portly, John Farley (Seann William Scott, The Rundown) had the worst gym teacher known to mankind: Mr. Woodcock (Billy Bob Thornton, Bad News Bears). Mr. Woodcock made a career out of humiliating Farley and his classmates, belittling their lack of athleticism, beaning them with dodge balls and systematically crushing their spirit and self-esteem.
Thirteen years later, Farley is a bestselling author of the self-help book "Letting Go," and is set to kick off of his publicity tour when he learns his hometown has nominated him for a local award. Thrilled, Farley returns home, but is aghast to discover that his mother (Susan Sarandon) is dating Mr. Woodcock, the very man that had traumatized him so long ago.
Convinced that his mom is headed for a lifetime of terror, Farley takes it upon himself to break them up -- with predictably disastrous results.
As I said, low expectations going in, but it didn't take long for Mr. Woodcock to win me over. This movie is pretty funny, stocked with memorable writing and featuring a large amount of phys-ed violence perpetrated against frumpy junior high boys. Add to that great comic performances by Seann William Scott and Billy Bob Thornton and the result is a mainstream Hollywood comedy that doesn't suck.
There is predictability to be found here though, and the characters that you would expect to Learn Valuable Life Lessons and Grow As People, do just that, in precisely the ways you'd figure. So don't expect a pile of groundbreaking plot, and the boilerplate storyline trajectory and character arc is disappointing, but bottom line this movie had me laughing many times and I would definitely not be opposed to sitting through it again with someone who hasn't seen yet.
Besides the screenwriters, the biggest credit for the film's success has to go to the Thornton/Scott tag team. Seann William Scott has carved a niche out for himself as the goofball slacker, but he abandons that caricature and smartly chooses a role that's more straight man than funny man. His John Farley is a tightly-wound psychoanalyst (granted, another favorite Hollywood archetype) who's tried to move past the soul-crushing oppression of Mr. Woodcock back in the day. When he discovers the relationship between Woodcock and his mom, Farley embarks on a slow burn, which Scott plays on the money. This obviously turns into a volcanic eruption, placing the actor into more familiar comic territory, but, regardless, this role shows me that the guy is more than a one-note funny-man.
Opposite Scott is Thornton's titular gym teacher and, really, he too could be considered a straight man. Billy Bob plays this guy as a subdued, deadpan, almost-lethal jackass. Most of Woodcock's laughs come at the expense of Farley and his increasingly bizarre shenanigans, but the writers have bestowed numerous prime lines on him as well. Susan Sarandon has he relatively thankless job of the fawning mom/girlfriend and mainly gawks at her son's inanity.
The film looks and sounds solid, sporting an anamorphic widescreen and a 5.1 Dolby Digital surround track. Picture quality is clean throughout and the audio, while front-loaded, as expected with such a dialogue-heavy production, is clean. The extras are fairly unremarkable: deleted scenes of varying amusement, a lightweight making-of documentary and a "P.E. Trauma Tales" featurette where cast and crew reflect on high-larious gym class experiences. (Writer's Note: In no way should the term "high-larious" be interpreted as anything besides sarcastic and derisive.)
Predictability aside, I fully recommend Mr. Woodcock for an evening of joviality. I was borderline shocked at how often I was laughing.
You are excused from the rope climb.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: New Line
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 88 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Deleted Scenes
* Making-Of Featurette
* P.E. Trauma Tales
* Official Site