Saturday, December 20, 2008

Mr. Woodcock

Mr. Woodcock (2007) is so half-hearted that I really wonder why anyone bothered to make it. The film is about John Farley (Seann William Scott), a young author of a best-selling self-help book who returns home after some years to discover that his widowed mother (Susan Sarandon) is involved with the hated gym teacher, Mr. Woodcock, who was the bane of his adolescence. Farley remembers Woodcock as a cruel, brutal man who abused and mistreated students. In fact, he remembers Woodcock as one of the reasons why he became a self-help author—to urge people to forget about their pasts and to look forward to the future.

The only element I at all liked in this film was Billy Bob Thornton, who played Mr. Woodcock with a ruthless and one-dimensional consistency. We've seen him in this sort of role before—in the remake of Bad News Bears and in the Bad Santa films, although those roles had some flesh to them. As Woodcock, Thornton doesn't have much to work with. There's nothing much below the surface of his character, or at least the film doesn't give us much. Farley decides that he must prevent his mother's marriage to Woodcock, and the two go at it in an increasingly intense and juvenile competition. It's interesting to see Thornton play the one-dimensional Woodcock with such relentless drive—as if the film is so boring to him that he makes that boredom and what may be self-disgust at having to play the role part of the motivating force in his character.

There's much in the film that doesn't ring true. It's difficult to believe that Farley's mother, who is warm and loving, would fall for a cold character like Woodcock. And towards the end of the film, when Farley seems to lose his cool in a fundamental way and nearly kills Woodcock, his behavior is totally illogical and out of character.

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