Review: “Night School” Heart and Humor

While Kevin Hart has not always been my go to guy for humor, I watched the trailer for this movie and decided to give it a chance. The interactions between him and the teacher looked funny and the situation sounded like it might be rich in laughter. By the end of the movie, I was a convert. I loved the situational comedy in the film and I loved Kevin Hart. The film was not only hilarious but was a great lesson in the power of hard work and second chances.

Kevin Hart stars as Teddy Walker. In high school, Teddy struggled in school and walked out of school never completing due to his placement exam. He swore he’d still succeed, get rich, and have the girl. As the movie begins, it appears that Teddy has everything he promised but his life is built on a stack of cards, as his best friend Marvin (Ben Schwartz) tells him about his finances. While he works hard as a salesman of a BBQ store and cares deeply about his fiance Lisa (Megalyn Echikunwoke), everything’s he’s built is based on lies and debt. When he accidentally blows up his store, he loses his job and must get a new one. The only problem, he must go back to school and get his GED.

At first, he thinks he can sweet talk his way through just being handed his GED but the principal in charge of his old school is none other than his rival, Stewart (Taran Killam), who had good grades and worked hard. Teddy’s charm isn’t going to work on Stewart and it doesn’t work on the feisty night school teacher, Carrie (Tiffany Haddish), either. Carrie does let Teddy take her class but she tells him he has to do the work. Teddy begins class on a bad note, dismissing the other students but eventually bonds with them, even the waiter, Luis, that he got fired trying to impress Lisa. But will he work hard to get his GED or will he resort to his old tricks to try and get by? And while he’s working hard going to school, will Lisa discover his subterfuges?

Directed by Malcolm D. Lee and co-written by Kevin Hart, Night School had the theater in stitches. For myself, I think one of the first elements that brings the comedy is the dialogue. Kevin Hart plays a fast talking salesman and his lines reflect that, providing him opportunities to spit out some great lines while trying to talk up his teacher, Carrie as well as the other students in the class. He also does some great shuffling as he attempts to prevent his fiance Lisa from discovering his finances and his lies. But he’s not the only one with great lines. At the beginning of the movie, his boss tells him why he likes Teddy: “He’s the son I do have and I’m not so crazy about him.” His father played by Keith David has some great moments telling Teddy to grow up in a variety of funny lines. Tiffany Haddish has equal weight with her part in the film, not only funny but getting some of the most heart warming lines, “No good teacher would call her student dumb.”

It is not just the dialogue, though. The movie uses a lot of situational humor, predicated on the choices that the characters make and consequences of their actions. While you root for Teddy, you can see that his choice to not be more financially responsible and be honest is part of what precipitates the mess he’s in. We all make bad choices so we can empathize even as we laugh at the situation he ends up being in. The comedy is based on his desire to avoid the hard work he needs to do as he instead tries to fast talk his way through and take shortcuts. The best part of that is it illustrates that it is far easier to embrace your mistakes and do the work than to be dishonest. While empathizing the humor inherent in Teddy’s actions, the film also avoids the mistake of pandering to the lowest common denominator. The film clearly shows us that learning disabilities and bad choices do not equal being dumb. And that all of us can have a second chance.

The situational humor also works so well due to the cast. Kevin Hart is backed up by a really great set of actors. Tiffany Haddish is smart, wisecracking and wise as Carrie, his teacher. She plays well off of his style, strong and dynamic. The crew of misfits in the class help keep the humor rolling. Rob Riggle plays MacKenzie (Big Mac) who is trying to get out of construction. Romany Malco plays Jaylen who is afraid of the rise of the machines and technology but needs his GED to get a better job. Mary Lynn Rajskub plays Theresa, a hardworking mom who needs her GED to help support her family and follow her dreams. Al Madrigal plays Luis, the waiter that Teddy got fired. He needs his GED to become a dental hygienist. Anne Winters plays Mila, a hipster who is getting her GED to avoid juvenile detention. Fat Joe plays Bobby a prisoner taking the class via Skype. Each character brings a layer of laughter to the movie and in concert with Kevin Hart, they are absolutely hilarious. Even Taran Killam as Stewart, ruling the school with an iron fist, brings an element of wackiness to his part and showing subtle emotions in every scene he is in.

There is some predictable set up to get Teddy to the point where he takes Night School. His downfall from his successful job is not terribly surprising nor was the store blowing up but the delivery of the scenes still made for a successful delivery of the joke. Some of the jokes are a bit silly but still work. There is also at least one continuity error where a character gets hurt but it does not appear in the next scene. Megalyn Echikunwoke does a good job as Lisa but doesn’t get to bring nearly enough to the movie. I like the actress and I would have liked to have seen her have more screen time. But even though it is predictable in some ways, there are other scenes, especially the conclusion that break from the routine and brings a surprising ending to the movie.

I love that the writers tie Teddy’s problems to a learning disability and don’t fall into the trap of calling the character stupid. I also like that it is basically about second chances and honesty. While funny, the film is also full of heart, with some predictable moments but some scenes that are completely unexpected. Kevin Hart and Tiffany Haddish are incredible and a laugh riot but they are not alone, the whole cast bringing a misfit vibe and drawing laughter from every scene. If you like the actors and you like a good comedy, I really recommend this one. It is full of charm, wit and lessons in the power of hard work!

Rating: 4 GED tests out of 5.

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