The Good Student is one of those movies that makes you feel robbed, somehow inadequate for being a decent human being who wants to believe that other people are decent as well. It makes you feel like the sucker that thinks the world is full of good people until you get beat up and no one helps you, or someone comes along seeming to want to help but instead steals your wallet.
There aren’t any real heroes in this story, and the story feels like a cheat. But none of that should deter you from seeing the movie. Au contraire! The movie is good because of those very reasons.
The Good Student is about a teacher, Mr. Gipp, who has an inappropriate crush on one of his students, the daughter of a local car salesman. Ew factor #1. Mr. Gipp is nerdy. He teaches a subject that most of his students don’t like but he loves (history); in fact, he looks up to historical figures, particularly Abraham Lincoln and the Founding Fathers. He doesn’t trust the banks with his money, he appears to have no friends (we learn he hasn’t had a visitor to his trailer in six years), has a crappy car, and tries to hide the fact that he rents “Young & Blonde,” a porno, from the local video store from one of his students, who happens to work there.
The major plot comes into play when said crush/student (Hayden Panettiere) is kidnapped after he drops her off at home. Her father uses her abduction to drum up business for his dealership. The school newspaper geek prints a picture of the teacher and the girl kissing in his new truck (an innocent kiss in a moment of excitement over a good grade on a history test…but still ew factor #2). The police are harrassing him. Did he know what happened to her? He was the last one who’d seen her.
In the end, it doesn’t matter that the girl is kidnapped or, really, who actually did it. The movie’s focus is Mr. Gipp and how he handles this preposterous position. Are we queasy about being placed in the corner of a pervy teacher? Surprisingly, no, not for much of the movie. We want this poor sap that’s been beaten up by life to finally do something that will matter. There’s a humorous scene where he is waiting to meet with the kidnapper to drop off the ransom money. He is wearing a wire, and as he waits, he begins to quote the Gettysburg Address (at least that what I think it was–I saw it two days ago).
But this movie made me mad. It didn’t play fair. It had a “What on earth?” ending if I have ever seen one. Usually, even if you don’t know who it is until the end, you should have. The culprit’s actions show he is the culprit, even if you don’t see it upon the first viewing. I’ve felt this way about quite a few movies; the way the culprit must actively puppeteer everyone, or throws out red herrings in a desperate attempt to deflect attention from themselves. It’s been a while since a movie revealed both the perpetrator and the motivation for the crime within the last five minutes. It has also been a while since I’ve seen a movie in which the motivation for the crime had so litte to do with the story, and yet had absolutely everything to do with the story.
I still can’t decide if the ending was great or crappy. What I can decide is that this movie has few people who are good. The father uses any and everything at his disposal to sell cars and sleep with women, the teacher is admittedly pervy, the boyfriend seems like he might have a bad temper and be abusive. The only character who seems truly innocent spends all but maybe ten minutes of the movie bound and gagged in an undisclosed location. And then there is the bowling alley woman who doesn’t seem too bad, but the more you look at her, the more you wonder if she has something to hide…
***/ B- for a few plot holes, such as how did newspaper girl get the picture of that kiss, yet didn’t see who had kidnapped the victim? But I digress…