A good idea does not a good movie make. While the thought of a movie where your sadistic gym teacher ends up marrying your mother is sort of funny, it seems to lose quite a bit in its execution.
The funniest person in Mr. Woodcock, a very bland comedy, is Amy Poehler. She has a few scenes as a press agent for famous self-help author John Farley (Seann William Scott) where she tosses off sharply sarcastic lines about alcohol, stalkers and family reunions. The main problem with Mr. Woodcock is that, despite being the best thing in the movie, Pohler is a very minor character. A whole movie about Maggie the Press Agent, or at least some of her spirit in the other characters, would have been infinitely preferable to the rather dreary un-funny movie that was made.
Scott’s successful writer heads back to his hometown in Nebraska to pick up an award during the annual corn festival. He learns, to his horror, that while he was gone his mother, Beverly (Susan Sarandon), has begun dating Mr. Woodcock (Billy Bob Thornton), his masochistic gym teacher. Woodcock’s daily dose of basketball beanings, crotch smacks, verbal humiliations, and lack of sympathy or plain common decency scarred Farley and led directly to his biggest seller, “Letting Go: Getting Past Your Past.” The thought of this guy “putting it” to his mom, as some townspeople unsympathetically note, is more than Farley can stand.
This, of course, leads to the inevitable conflict between Farley and Woodcock and the inevitable continued humiliation of Farley in all contests. The pratfalls, crotch bashing (again), and general physical comedy that goes along with this, combined with references to Woodcock and Beverly’s sexual activities, are meant to be hilarious, but fall flat in scene after scene. The plot just trudges on toward the conclusion that anyone can see coming, not really generating the laughs the filmmakers clearly intended.
Thonton gives his usual good performance and seems to be able to play this sort of knowing jerk in his sleep. Sarandon and Scott actually seem to be sleeping and don’t interact as if they even know each other, much less act as mother and son. My Name is Earl’s Ethan Sulpee plays the grown up version of Farley’s gym class buddy and fellow victim, but doesn’t have much to do. Neither does Melissa Sagemiller as a hometown love interest for Farely who doesn’t have any funny or interesting lines and seems to exist because characters in this type of movie need a potential girlfriend.
There were, reportedly, lots of post test-screening reshoots not involving director Craig Gillespie, who made this movie about two years ago, before starting Lars and the Real Girl. It’s possible there was more of a bite or edge to things originally, but that has all been sucked out, leaving only lack of wit and broad but not particularly funny physical comedy. First time writers Michael Carnes and Josh Gilbert are unable to make the somewhat clever premise pay-off with anything fresh, interesting, or entertaining.
The disc for Mr. Woodcock is made much more interesting by playing “look how they pretend the director doesn’t exist.” Craig Gillespie’s name in the credits is the only way you would know he had anything to do with the film. He obviously doesn’t provide any commentary; in fact, no one does. I’m a strong believer in commentaries, but I’m also a strong believer in being thankful I don’t have to rewatch bad movies just to listen to the commentary.
Gillespie is also absent from the fifteen minute making-of featurette that anchors the DVD. Any place that would typically include a directorish comment is instead provided by the writers or producers. The fact that they did reshoots on the movie without involving the director is probably the most interesting thing about the movie, so why not talk about it a little bit? Instead, it’s the usual making-of shlock about how it’s a great script, great location, great actors, great direct…..uh…..actually, they skip that part. As is the case with the movie itself, Amy Poehler fails to take the featurette seriously and is the only one who is genuinely funny or interesting.
The other featurette is about gym class horror stories. They get a little creative on this one. Instead of just interviewing the stars, they also talk to extras, stand-ins, set dressers, and anyone else who didn’t like their gym teacher or gym class. They even interview a somewhat oddball gym teacher and intersperse the whole thing with some of Mr. Woodcock’s most unsympathetic comments or actions in the movie. It’s not half-bad. That is not exactly a raving review, but on this disc that is about as far as I’m willing to go.
The only other extra, besides previews, are deleted and extended scenes. It’s more of the same of what is already in the movie and since that’s not very funny, this isn’t either. It also lacks any context comments. It would have been interesting to hear why things were cut and how this movie was shaped from what Gillespie wanted into what it eventually became. One fascinating part of the commentary of The Simpson’s Movie was that the producers admitted that some things were cut or rearranged after screenings and explained why. Time to stop pretending this doesn’t happen and just embrace it.
It’s hard to put out a good DVD if you start with a bad movie and throw on a minimal amount of pedestrian extras. This is simply a movie that fails to hit the mark, although it started with a clever idea. There is really no reason to pick this movie up unless you giggle at the thought of saying “Woodcock” to the clerk at Blockbuster.