Review of General Education

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Levi Collins is set to go to the local University on a tennis scholarship, but he forgot to tell his parents one thing - he didn't graduate high school.
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Movie Reviews: "General Education"

-- Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Length: 94 minutes
Release Date: August 24, 2012
Directed by: Tom Morris
Genre: Comedy

Teen coming-of-age comedies are a popular movie genre, so each film must do something to differentiate itself from the rest of the pack. "General Education" accomplishes this with some hilarious performances by comedy veterans who help the younger actors carry the film.

The movie begins with young Levi (Chris Sheffield), a teenager who was forced to play tennis by his somewhat overbearing father, Rich (Larry Miller). His mother, Gale (Janeane Garofalo), would probably have tried to force tennis on him as well, but she is a bit absent emotionally for a good part of the movie. She drinks to self-medicate, because she is bitter about how her life has turned out. She wasn't always an absentee mother, which gives the audience hope that she will come around. The script, co-written by director Tom Morris, Elliot Field and Jaz Kalkat, gives her plenty of opportunity to do so.

Levi has received a tennis scholarship to a local college, making his father very happy. The fact that the school in question is Rich's alma mater only makes him more proud. Unfortunately, Levi does not have the same level of happiness because tennis makes him unhappy. He does it because his father demands it and his mother is too embroiled in her own bitterness to stick up for him. It's important to note that Rich really does only want what is best for Levi, but his success (he is the mayor of their small town) means he wants similar success for Levi. He can't imagine a world where his son doesn't become a tennis champion like his older brother Bobby (Brian Collins), so he is oblivious to the fact that his son is woeful about a future he had no hand in planning.

Once awarded a scholarship, the only way to keep it is to actually graduate from high school. This is a problem for Levi, who fails his senior science class. He is not given a diploma, which puts his scholarship, and therefore his relationship with his dad, in jeopardy. He decides not to tell his parents, instead opting to sign himself up for summer school and try and pass his class and retain the scholarship that he actually doesn't want. Keeping this a secret from his parents won't be easy, so he enlists the help of his sister Emily (McKaley Miller), who is studying to be a mime. Between her mime silence, his father doing his mayoral duties and his mother's alcoholism, he just might be able to get away with the ruse.

In school, he meets Katie (Maiara Walsh), a fellow student, who he quickly falls for. Being something of a nerd and high school outcast, Levi never really dated, so his feelings for Katie hit him like a ton of bricks. She quite literally changes his outlook on life and makes him want to be a better person. He begins to take his class and future seriously, which sets up the eventual confrontation with his parents.

Sheffield does a great job as Levi, infusing the character with a quick wit that never seems forced or too scripted. He has to carry the film on his shoulders, though he does get some great help from McKayla Miller as his sister. It isn't easy to portray a mime, but she manages to pull it off. Garofalo is in fine form as the depressed mother who has completely lost her way as a parent. She somehow comes across as sympathetic, someone the audience wants to root for to change her ways, which is no easy feat.

Though clearly aimed at a teen audience, "General Education" may have some value for parents of teenagers as well. It could give them a little insight into the mind of a modern-day teenager and why they make the decisions they end up making. It isn't easy to be just 18 and have to decide the path for the rest of your life, especially if adults are always trying to make you bend to what they want for your life. Parents went through this, but often forget the experience by the time their own kids reach that same stage in life. This film could be a gentle reminder of the pressure a high school graduate (or almost graduate, in Levi's case) goes through. The ending is also a touching reminder of the meaning of family and how important it will be to Levi as he finally starts maturing into a man.

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars