Adventures in Public School, co-written by Kyle Rideout and Josh Epstein and directed by the former, follows Liam, a lifelong-homeschooled kid played by Daniel Doheny, through his first and final semester in public school. His mother Claire (Judy Greer) is a well-intentioned helicopter parent who, after becoming impregnated in high school, decides to put her entire life on hold to enthusiastically educate and nurture her only child. During an equivalency exam, Liam falls for Anastasia, played by Siobhan Williams, and decides to bomb the test in order to win her over and finally experience the truest form of high school. Initially enraged, Claire decides that the best course of action is to lead Liam through a guided rebellion, making for the film’s playful premise.
Public School is “comedy done right” according to Andrew McNee (who plays Mr. Kelly, the school principal in the film), and the audience at my screening of the movie at the Victoria Film Festival (VFF) could not agree more. Although it keeps things light and hilarious, the nature of the central mother-son relationship makes profound comments about privacy and isolation. Claire’s jurisdiction over Liam’s life is inappropriate for his age and the lack of space between them, illustrated by his lack of a bedroom door, has left him lagging behind in social development and very lonely. However, Greer portrays Claire’s fears for her son so clearly that one can only feel empathetic towards what could have been an altogether unpleasant character if tackled slightly different. The writing is funny and the acting is nuanced, keeping the tone engaging and amusing despite a somewhat sad narrative.
Speaking after the film at the VFF, Andrew McNee described a tendency for Canadian films to give actors more autonomy in the subtleties of their characters. According to McNee, Public Schooled was shot locally in Vancouver in under a month and a half and featured a highly collaborative set. The filming was quick but careful, and the film’s depiction of homeschooling perfectly represents Public School‘s energetic yet thoughtful tone.
Although the film does play into the trope that homeschooled children are not fully socially developed, it does not paint a picture of homeschooling as easier than regular school with both Liam and Autumn (Andrea Bang) excelling academically. Liam and Autumn’s mothers have decided on homeschooling due to eccentric beliefs; they just think they can do a better job than the public education system.
Adventures in Public School is an extremely accessible independent film that, while having some beautiful shots and deeper themes, can also just be enjoyed as an excellently costumed comedy with a pop-y soundtrack. It is sweet, entertaining, and was met with laughter and applause from a packed theatre of satisfied patrons at the VFF.
Adventures in Public School is available for pre-order through iTunes.