For those yearning for a feel-good YA fantasy story, The School for Good and Evil delivers a beautiful buffet of humor, friendship, and love but falls short on world-building.
Spoiler Warning: The following review contains spoilers for The School for Good and Evil film. If you do not wish to be spoiled, please do not read ahead.
The School for Good and Evil movie is finally here after several long years of waiting and I couldn’t be more ecstatic!
I’m admittedly a bit of a book purist. I know the book inside and out, like the back of my hand. This book is my Dune. I picked it up shortly after it was published in 2013 and waited nine years for it to get a live-action film adaptation.
At the moment, some critics are dragging the film through the mud, calling it a ‘rip off of Harry Potter‘. It currently has a 40% rating on Rotten Tomatoes but an 80% rating with audiences.
As is the problem with many book-to-film adaptions, the world and the lore of the book series aren’t given the attention or detail they deserve. In the books, the world is much more fleshed out and isn’t like anything we’ve encountered in other fantasy or YA series. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to tell that to people who are only watching the movie and are comparing it to other fantasy series and films out there.
Despite the fact that I really enjoyed this movie there are certainly some glaring problems. Usually, in a fantasy film, the plot moves too slowly but The School for Good and Evil faces the exact opposite problem. This movie could have been a short series much like Shadow and Bone, giving the cast and crew the opportunity to create the story from the books. Instead, the plot is crammed into two and a half hours, clumsily exploring a beautifully created universe. The books present a visual masterpiece woefully ignored in the films.
Sophie’s descent into a true and proper Never, that’s what the villains are called, is rushed, taking her from whimpering, homesick belle to cackling blood-magicked witch in what seems like a matter of scenes. Rafal helps her along, lingering in her dormitory room mirror or in a pillar of blood or bees but Sophie is unable to find her own power because of Rafal breathing down her neck.
When I met the author Soman Chainani in 2018 when he came to Greenville, South Carolina, he explained that he was using the movie to rewrite some parts of the book that he regretted or he felt could have been written better. I see evidence of that in the screenplay but I also see a lot of faults as a movie-viewer.
Regrettably, I made the mistake of rereading the book before watching the movie to refresh my memory. I feel like I would have done much better to have simply watched the film and enjoyed it as just the movie instead of searching through the catalog of things that the movie did and didn’t do.
The casting is great with the exception of Sophia Anne Caruso who plays Sophie in the film. Caruso is best known as Lydia Deetz in Beetlejuice on Broadway and to be honest, she should have stayed on Broadway. Her performance is weak and wooden next to Sofia Wylie (Agatha), Kit Young (Rafal/Rhian), and the star-studded cast of teachers and students. Young has chemistry with a paper bag but Caruso’s performance as Sophie is as interesting as a wet napkin.
The music is beautiful, a nice mixture of modern and soundtrack, something we’re seeing more and more of with Netflix (see: Bridgerton).
The CGI of the wolves gives me flashbacks to walking too close to the furries at Dragon Con but the other CGI, especially the fairies, is great. It’s nice to see the interpretation of fairies and gnomes as being something else in this universe.
The costumes are stunning and are better than anything I expected. Major props to the costuming department!
There is excellent diversity in the movie cast and the film leaves behind the book’s (albeit tongue-in-cheek) harmful stereotypes of fatness equaling evil or fatness being bad written as a fairytale satire. It’s proof that you can have satire without hateful tropes. There is a princess in a wheelchair at the beginning of the film as well as several little people cast in the movie as both Evers and Nevers. The cast is full of POC and characters of all body sizes.
Despite my problems with the film and the deceptively deep plot holes seen by a person who misses the books, I enjoyed watching The School for Good and Evil for what it was: a magical YA jaunt through a beautiful world that places the emphasis on what it means to be human, the balance of murky gray morality, and the power of friendship.
The School for Good and Evil is currently available to stream on Netflix and the books by Soman Chainani are available wherever books are sold.
What did you think of it? Have you read the book series?
Let us know.
Also, you can watch Farid’s reaction video (he hasn’t read any of the books) below!
Bekah has a B.F.A. in Theatre Performance from Anderson University and is the Executive Assistant at Saga Event Planning. She is a frequent convention attendee and cosplayer and co-hosts The Geekiary webcast “The Bitching Dead”.
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