TIFF 2017: Public Schooled
Public Schooled, the latest film from actor-director Kyle Rideout, is one of those coming-of-age romantic comedies whose premise could only exist in the movies. After being home schooled for his entire life, Liam (Daniel Doheny) is one equivalency exam away from graduating high school and pursuing his physicist dreams at Cambridge. On the day of the exam, and the first time he ever steps foot in a public school, Liam spots Anastasia (Siobhan Williams), a teenager who lost a leg to cancer, and immediately falls for her. Realizing that home schooling has neglected some of the basic aspects of youth, notably friends and his first kiss, Liam decides to enroll in public school much to the dismay of his overprotective mother Claire (Judy Greer). In Claire’s eyes, public school not only rewards mediocrity, but also leads to bad choices that will ruin one’s life.
Taking the spot of another student, who is either out sick or dead, no one seems to know, Liam is given a week to take a crash course in what it is really like to be a high school student. As he tries to figure out how to win Anastasia’s heart, and deal with bullies in the process, Claire reluctantly tries to support her son by walking him through all the staples of youth including attending his first frat party and indulging in vices such as drugs and alcohol.
As outlandish as the premise to Rideout’s film is, it is a testament to his script (which was co-written by Josh Epstein) that Public Schooled succeeds as well as it does. Charming, witty and full of genuine heart, Rideout constructs a coming-of-age tale that captures the awkwardness of youth in a refreshing way. It is a quirky film that still manages to keep both its characters and overall plot grounded.
A key element to the film’s success is in the strong work by the ensemble cast, including Grace Park in an inspired cameo as the sexually frustrated mother of another home schooled student. Judy Greer and Daniel Doheny are wonderful in the central roles. They effectively take a mother and son bond, whose closeness frequently boarders on the unhealthy side, and always keeps it rooted in familial love first and foremost. While we may laugh at the situations Liam and Claire’s find themselves in, we never lose sight of the fact that Claire’s actions, much like Public Schooled itself, always comes from a sincere place.