January 19, 2023
For Better or Worse - Charlize Theron, Sophia Anne Caruso, Kerry Washington, and Sofia Wylie do their best to bring the best-selling book to the screen.
“The School for Good and Evil” was a wild ride, to say the least. Now, to preface, I’m a huge fan of the book series this movie was based on. Because of this, I will do my best to review the movie separately as a standalone work, and then compare it to the book.
The movie follows two friends, Agatha and Sophie, as they are transported from their small, backwater town to the grand School for Good and Evil. Here, people learn to be the protagonist in a fairytale, whether that be as a villain or hero. Sophie dreams of being a princess and desperately wants to attend the School for Good. Agatha meanwhile, ardently wants to go home. Unfortunately for both of them, Sophie is plopped into the School for Evil, and Agatha gets dropped into the School for Good.
The movie itself isn’t bad, just very simple and rushed. There are a lot of good ideas introduced, but they are not given time to reach their full potential. There is also a lack of nuance, which is ironic considering one of the thematic ideas is that things aren’t as black and white as they seem.
The root of the problems throughout the movie is that there is not enough time. The themes are underdeveloped, the characters lack gratifying and meaningful arcs, and the plot tries to pack in too much. In my opinion, it would have been a much better adaptation if it was a series instead.
I think some of this lack of depth can be attributed to the fact “The School for Good and Evil” seems to have a younger target audience. I still find the resulting work disappointing though, as many things are goofy and meant for kids, but still, achieve an insightful and emotive core felt for all ages. And honestly, I love the silliness that comes with things intended for kids.
But anyway, this review has been entirely too negative! There were things I liked! For example, Sophie and Agatha’s friendship made me very happy, and I love them just having fun together as well. They are truly the heart of this film. Tedros was also a standout character for me, and he is so lovable in the movie, especially compared to his book counterpart at times.
The costumes and sets were phenomenal as well. It was absolutely surreal seeing this world I’ve imagined brought to life, as well as the characters.
Comparison to the Books
Before I obviously discuss the main character and plot changes, I was very disappointed at the lack of screen time given to distinguish side characters. Many of them have quirks and standout personalities of their own that were simply not shown in the movie. Kiko, especially, was done a disservice. One of Good’s truly good students, her friendship and kindness to Agatha is extremely important- people besides Sophie are capable of liking her.
This arc of Agatha’s was thrown aside and hardly mentioned in the movie. Agatha’s deep insecurities and low self-esteem is something that makes so many readers feel understood and seen. It's extremely impactful, and while they filmed footage for this arc they cut it, a careless mistake that proves the movie does not live up to the book’s storytelling.
Sophie’s arc was also mishandled. I could have tolerated Sophie being a character that's easier to sympathize with and altogether nicer, but the inclusion of Rafal completely removes the agency she holds in her actions, and her internal conflict of figuring out who she is. While the manipulation by Rafal is huge in the third book, and I find it very important, it has no place in the story of the first book. Sophie and Agatha are both figuring out their friendship and themselves- Rafal and Tedros are both not, nor should be, major characters in either of these struggles. There was no reason that Rafal needed to be introduced in this movie, and it took away sorely-needed time that could have been used to develop the plot and characters.
The book plot itself is very eventful, and there’s not enough time to cover it in a movie. In my opinion, the movie maker’s decisions of what to keep and what to get rid of were not very wise and did not aid in capturing the original story’s meaningfulness.
While I by no means hate the movie, overall I found it very disappointing. Visually it's all there- but there’s an integral lack of heart that seeps through the pages of the books.