10/16/2007

Mr. Woodcock

Director: Craig Gillespie

Former television commercial director Craig Gillespie tackled the script of first time writing duo Michael Carnes and Josh Gilbert which centers on a young man who has overcome his youth as an overweight student mercilessly bullied by his middle school gym teacher and channeled it into a successful career writing a hit self-help book. When we first meet him as an adult, John Farley (Seann William Scott) seems to have the perfect life—traveling around on book tours with his no-nonsense business handler Maggie (the always hilarious Amy Poehler) and finally getting the key to his small Midwestern town but he’s in for a nasty surprise when he returns back to his childhood home to find his widowed mother Susan Sarandon engaged to his nemesis Coach Woodcock. As he proved with his roles in the inane but surprisingly funny School for Scoundrels and the joyously sleazy Bad Santa, nobody plays the tough, sinister yet oddly double-sided villainous antihero better than Billy Bob Thornton. Thornton is what makes this film work—he elevates Scott’s performance with his challenging dialogue and demeanor yet also reveals the oddly charming side (most evident in Bandits) that makes it believable to audiences that Sarandon would have become involved with him in the first place. After a failed attempt to apologize, clear the air and start from scratch, John ends up teaming up with another tortured classmate Nedderman (Ethan Suplee), to spy on Woodcock in order to get the dirt that will prevent the nuptials and break up the couple in a sort of twisted Parent Trap in reverse. It’s refreshing to see a male character try and fight so hard for his mom as usually films are overpopulated by the gender clich├ęd mother and daughter or father and son bond and while I do agree with other critics (most notably Roger Ebert) that the contrived ending wasn’t nearly satisfying enough and we wanted a darker payoff to fit Woodcock’s evil character, it’s still a much more entertaining film than I was expecting. However, there are some pure Hollywood moments that do get in the way of the performances and hilarity as the LA Times reported that director David Dobkin (Wedding Crashers, Fred Claus and Shanghai Knights) was hired for three weeks of reshoots to retool the film.