John Farley is a bestselling author of self help books who returns to his home town in Nebraska to be awarded the key to the city. While at home he discovers his mother is dating the Physical Education teacher who tortured him as a child. He struggles to overcome the insecurities he developed due to the teacher while trying to respect his mother’s feelings.
Billy Bob Thornton is slowly typecasting himself. The man who caught the world’s attention in Sling Blade has started to grow comfortable in the same roles, played over and over again. With small differences, the men he has portrayed in Bad Santa, Bad News Bears, Friday Night Lights, School for Scoundrels and now Mr. Woodcock could easily have been the same person. There are a few surprises thrown in such as his turn in the Coen’s The Man Who Wasn’t There and the wonderful Monster’s Ball, but Thornton is no longer the cutting edge star that he once made people believe he could be.
In Mr. Woodcock, Thornton plays the title character, a P.E. teacher who pushes his students a little too hard. He pokes fun at the kid who stutters. He forces the asthmatic to run laps and “get that asthma under control.” He swings a bat into the balls of the boys to see if they are wearing protection or not. And for young, overweight John Farley, Mr. Woodcock embarrasses him routinely in front of the class.
When John (Scott) grows up he becomes a bestselling author, writing a self help book teaching people how to overcome their childhood traumas to become stronger adults. Thanks to his success, he is invited back to his home town in Nebraska to receive the key to the town at their local carnival (The Cornival). When he gets home, he learns the distressing news that his mother (Sarandon) is now dating Mr. Woodcock. He initially attempts to make good with his former tormentor but Woodcock remains an ass. When Woodcock and his mother announce they are engaged to be married, John sets out to do whatever he can to break them up.
Mr. Woodcock is full of the same jokes that exist in all Thornton’s recent comedies. He torments and abuses those around him and yet is expected to remain sympathetic. He does not come close to the level of sympathy he achieved in Bad News Bears and his shtick has started to wear thin. Seann William Scott was really good in the flick but unfortunately, in a movie needing the two to have a strong chemistry, only Scott garnered my interest.
Ethan Suplee is comedy gold. While I argue that Thornton needs to branch out, Suplee has found his niche in cinema. He plays pretty much the same character as he does in My Name is Earl and all of Kevin Smith’s movies. As a supporting character, he is perfect. I think I laughed out loud during the Suplee scenes more than any other part of the movie. Amy Proehler was also a high point of the movie as John’s literary publicist. She was quirky and hilarious throughout and raised every scene she appeared in. The best two parts of the movie are the supporting actors and that is a problem.
The real problem with the movie is the lack of heart. The film preaches it is alright when Woodcock tortures the kids in school because it can help them grow up and be strong adults. John decides that his mother should be with Woodcock since he really loves her, despite the fact that Woodcock is “emotionally stunted.” At one point John meets Woodcock’s dad and sees how poorly he treats his son, and decides that maybe Woodcock deserves a second chance as well. While Woodcock did help John grow into a strong individual, that does not make what his character did and continues to do right. I think the movie had a real lack of humor because the subject matter was not humorous.
Billy Bob Thornton has real talent but this reoccurring role has become old. This movie is nothing that has not been seen before and is nothing to go out of your way to see now.
The aspect ratio is 2.35:1 and the transfer is great, with the colors really popping. The audio is 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround Sound and sounds good. There is a group of deleted and extended scenes that would not have affected the story if they had been left in. There is a making of featurette that is a nice little piece which talks to most of the players. There is also a featurette called P.E. Trauma Tales about the torture that people faced in P.E. classes. I don’t really get it because I never was abused in P.E. class. There is also the theatrical trailer and a number of sneak peeks.