Mr. Woodcock (2007)

Rated: PG-13
Grade: BCB+C=B
Budget: $22 million
Box Office: $26 million US, $6 million int’l, $7 million DVD

Directed by: Craig Gillespie, whose only other movie was Lars and the Real Girl, but he was making television commercials for 16 years.
Starring: Billy Bob Thornton, Seann William Scott, Susan Sarandon, Amy Poehler, Ethan Suplee, and Melissa Sagemiller.

After being humiliated and psychologically scarred by his phys ed teacher early in life, John Farley overcomes his past and becomes a successful self-help author. When he is suddenly offered a coveted hometown honor, he returns home to discover to his great frustration that his sadistic tormentor is not only marrying his mother but is receiving a teacher of the year award.

Entertainment Value: B
I particularly disliked the first ¾ of this movie, and I think I suggested to my wife that we quit watching it at least twice. She said that we should keep watching it, and I’m (moderately) glad we did because the ending made up for the rest of it. It’s moderately funny, but it’s the sort of humor in vogue these days from Meet the Parents or Will Farrell: stressful situation comedy based on stupidity of one or more people.

Superficial Content: C
Drugs/Alcohol B, Sexuality C, Violence B, Language C, Illegality C
It’s crude. There are lots of sexual references and frank discussions here, although nothing is ever shown, but there is one particularly vulgar (and funny) scene of a man underneath a bed while people have sex on it, hitting him in the face with the mattress. There are a lot of mild profanities, plus a few stronger ones, and several examples of slapstick violence. PG-13 is right, maybe even PG-15 would be better.

Significant Content: B+
Self-help authors only practice what they preach until things get really rough. The publishing industry is cutthroat and aggressive. Perceptions of people can be distorted. You should be sure you’re right before you make accusations. Tough love is still love. Loneliness is hard to bear. Sometimes it takes a good fight to achieve reconciliation.

Artistic/Thought Value: C
Warning: Plot spoilers. As I indicated above, surely no one is likely to be calling this great art. But I was pretty impressed that it did the one thing I didn’t want it to do and yet somehow knew it was going to do: make the really bad guy wind up looking pretty good. I’m generally not a fan of movies predicated on people just unwilling to directly confront their problems and tell the truth, but this one winds up teaching the downside of that, so I favor it.

Discussion Questions:
~What do you think of Mr. Woodcock’s teaching style? Is this abuse or just what young men need?
~Who in this movie is selfish? Who is generous?
~What are the dangers in hating someone? Does hate have a tendency to distort our memories and also how we interpret subsequent behavior by them?
~Is there anyone in your life who you think treated you badly?
~Do you think our current ways of disciplining (or not disciplining) boys is helping or hurting men in our country?
~Is it plausible to you that the mother would both not have done anything about Mr. Woodcock’s treatment of her son and also not remember it years later?
~Do you know anyone who is at all like Mr. Woodcock? What age is he?
~Why does Mr. Woodcock think apologizing is unacceptable? Do we apologize too quickly these days?
~What sort of obligations do single parents have to their children (adult or not) in selecting another spouse? Should people remarry after a spouse dies?
~Is it more healthy to try to forget something painful in your past or to try to integrate it into who you are by understanding it properly? What influences you more: things that happened in your childhood or things that you did as an adult?

Overall Grade: B
This doesn’t quite clear Billy Bob Thornton for School for Scoundrels, and it certainly doesn’t atone for Bad News Bears, but on it’s own, this is pretty good.

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