Review: Mr. Woodcock
PLOT: When celebrated self-help author John Farley returns to his hometown to accept an award, he finds his mom has found a new boyfriend. But when he finds out that the new beau is his old Junior High School coach who made his formative years miserable, he plots to tear the two apart. Much to his mother’s dismay, the two of them fight, quickly destroying his relationship with his mother as well as her ties with coach. Will they ever be able to accept that each of them makes Mom happy? Or will someone call child services on this coach before some poor kid really gets hurt? And how many sex jokes can you make about woodcock?
Mr. Woodcock! Yep, that’s a funny name. It not only contains “cock”, but “wood”… in the same word! See how funny that is? Let’s all say it together… WOODCOCK. And that is pretty much as funny as the movie gets. You see, Seann William Scott is John Farley, a self-help writer who goes home to accept an award for being famous from his hometown. When he arrives, he realizes his mom (Susan Sarandon) is dating his old gym teacher… guess what his name is? That’s right, Mr. Woodcock. And if you have had the pleasure of seeing NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET PART 2: FREDDY’S REVENGE, then you have good idea what this coach is like. He throws basketballs at his young students, and forces a young Farley to change in front of the class, and do pull-ups in his briefs. The only thing missing was a little sadomasochistic scene with the youngsters. Oh, wait, of course he’s not having sex with his students, he’s too busy pounding Farley’s mom. Why Susan? Why did you do this?
The fun begins when he arrives in town and has to accept Woodcock as mom’s boyfriend. And thus begins an unfunny, one-note joke that focuses on him trying to break the two up. A couple of funny people are used in secondary roles including Farley’s old friend from school played by Ethan Suplee. And Amy Poehler adds a few chuckles as his power hungry, alcoholic press agent. See, it’s funny. Because he writes a book on self help and letting go of your past, but he can’t let go because he is dealing with you know who. Need I say it again… Woodcock.
This is a promising beginning, if not a tad creepy. We see this poor kid dealing with this massive a-hole of a P.E. teacher who terrorizes kids with asthma, kids that are overweight, or kids that are just afraid. This is a child’s nightmare teacher. There are moments where this works and truth be told, nobody plays roles like this better than Billy Bob Thornton. His work here is pretty great and he deserves a better movie. Let’s face it, he could sleepwalk through the part and still be terrific. But still… we’ve seen this character, or at least shades of this dude before from Mr. Thornton, and it makes it hard to feel much of anything aside from disdain for him. We soon find out that Mr. Woodcock is up for some teacher of the year award… no, this is not a joke. From what I saw, the only thing this teacher would get is a law-suit and suspension. Certainly not teacher of the year.
As for the self help guru, Seann William Scott plays the straight laced John Farley much too comedic. It seems his “letting go of your past” persona quickly dissolves into a revenge obsessed, psycho-stalker that wants to save his mom from the woodcock. I like Mr. Scott, I think he is always quite funny, but here, it seems he was trying too hard. His overactive expressions and his way too outrageous breakdowns are not at all funny. In fact, when he hears all the voices in his head, he borders on being a sociopath. I didn’t believe for one second that this guy wrote a self help book. The role of Farley would have been stronger if it had been played by a less manic actor.
I also found myself often wondering why Susan Sarandon did this film. She a very funny actress if given the chance (see BULL DURHAM) and she is also good here. And in a sense, she did offer up the few times that I felt something in the film. When she finds herself hurt and angry at her son and boyfriend, she dresses for a parade which she is supposed to represent Ms. Whatever town this is. You see, along time ago she was voted beauty queen or something for this little Midwest town. When she comes down in her dress, looking like she had been transplanted back in time, she wears her sadness well, without trying too hard. How I would have loved to see her in this role in another film, possibly a good one.
Director Craig Gillespie isn’t really the only one to blame here. He directs with a sure hand but it feels much too generic. It shifts from comedy to drama without feeling any of the human emotion involved with either. It feels much too bland and would have fit nicely on ABC Family minus some of the vulgarities. The problem also lies with the script by Michael Carnes and Josh Gilbert who also fail to generate any real dialogue from the situation. Yet they did lend a few funny moments that the actors give their all too. And Amy Poelher was really able to tackle some of that making for some of the few laugh out loud moments. But a couple of chuckles aside, Mr. Woodcock is a flat, non-funny comedy with a lot of talent that deserves better. I seem to remember a time in school when you could grade your teacher. If I had Mr. Woodcock… he wouldn’t get any better than a D, and that‘s being generous. My rating 3/10 -- JimmyO