When it was first announced that there would be a film collaboration between Tiffany Haddish and Kevin Hart, my first thoughts immediately went to what kind of shenanigans the comedic pair could get up to as a teacher-student combo in Night School. However, while the entire film isn’t a bust, it also didn’t manage to land the amount of laughs I was expecting and the message of the film (which is a poignant one) finds itself muddled up in some of the film’s more outlandish moments.
When we first meet Teddy (Kevin Hart), he’s in high school, preparing to take his SATs. Having never been a great student – but popular and into sports, Teddy is beyond nervous to take the test – and without the support of his father, Gerald (Keith David) and the constant teasing at the hands of his sister, Denise (Bresha Webb). Really, his only constant supporters are his mother, Carole (Donna Biscoe) and his best friend, Marvin (Ben Schwartz). But try as he might, Teddy is not good at studying and when the test is placed in front of him, he freezes and ultimately decides that graduation is not in his future, so he leaves student life behind to embark on a new adventure.
Years later, we are reintroduced to Teddy, driving around in his Porsche. A top-notch barbecue salesman who always wins the title of employee of the month and with a newfound promotion on the horizon, this could truly be a game changer for Teddy. However, things take a turn the night he proposes to his long-time girlfriend, Lisa (Megalyn Echikunwoke) at his place of employment. Some candles and and lit barbecues set off a leaking propane tank, causing an explosion in the building. Suddenly out of a job, Teddy looks to his friend Marvin for help. When Marvin tells Teddy he could likely get him a job at his work, Teddy’s excited – until Marvin lets him know there is one caveat: Teddy needs to get his GED.
Reluctantly, Teddy takes on the uphill battle and meets many roadblocks on the way, including the principal of the school, Stewart (Taran Killam), whom Teddy went to high school with – and let’s just say, the duo were less than friendly. Joined by a class of other would-be GED earners including Mila (Anne Winters – who is definitely the lovechild of Black Canary and Harley Quinn), Jaylen (Romany Malco), Mac (Rob Riggle), Theresa (Mary Lynn Rajskub), Bobby (Fat Joe) and Luis (Al Madrigal). Of course, as we all knew from the trailers, Teddy and his classmates have an unorthodox night school teacher in the form of Carrie (Tiffany Haddish).
In the weeks that the class ensues, Carrie does her best to keep her students interested, informed and in-line. However, that is sometimes easier said that done with Stewart breathing down her neck and her classmates’ penchants for getting into trouble. But despite it all, Carrie remains a caring and devoted teacher, really pushing her students to reach their potential, especially as it pertains to Teddy. Finding a new support system in Carrie, Teddy truly believes that despite his past (and his “learning herpes”), he can achieve his dream of getting his GED; with some laughs and craziness thrown in between.
Directed by Malcolm D. Lee (Girls Trip), Hart, Haddish and the rest of the cast do great jobs and they’re believable in their roles. They are all fun to watch and each have their own moment to shine. That being said, some of the jokes seemed a little ‘been there, done that’, but there were some jokes and funny moments that did not hit their mark. While it would have been asking a lot for every single joke to have the audience crying with laughter, it would have helped had we not already seen them in the trailer. Since the movie followed a pretty formulaic storyline, it didn’t really offer anything new. It seemed to rely too much on the craziness, as opposed to the real story that lay at its core.
Behind all of the jokes, barbecue store explosions and the arguments between Carrie and Teddy, there is a message buried in there – it’s just a bit hard to find. The film is about support, friendships and the need for great teachers. It provides good commentary about teachers being underpaid and treated poorly, as well as the intricacies of learning disabilities, but it all ends up getting lost in some of the chaos throughout the film. While the script attempts to bring some of these important topics to the forefront, the audience is often distracted in the moments where it should have been a more serious moment.
Ultimately, the film tries to do well and balance both the funny and the serious but fall short. However, this doesn’t mean that you should completely avoid Night School. As stated previously, it does still have the ability to make the audience laugh, which is likely what its intentions truly are. However, in dealing with some of the important commentary, it could have done better. Haddish and Hart do their best and while they are successful and providing some good laughs, it’s not enough to make the film great.
Night School is in theaters now.