‘The School for Good and Evil’ is a beautiful mess

Netflix’s rendition of the beloved book series is underwhelming

Directed by Paul Feig, “The School for Good and Evil” was released by Netflix on Oct. 13. As I was a huge fan of the original trilogy when I was younger, I was pumped up when I saw the news that it would be receiving a movie adaptation. When I heard my peers’ negative reviews for the film, I knew I needed to see it for myself. Based on the books by Soman Chainani, the story follows the leads, Sophie and Agatha, through a journey of self-discovery after being transported to a fantasy world. Though most of the visuals are stunning, and the actors’ impressive performances give it weight, the movie adaptation is sub-par.

“The School for Good and Evil” has awful pacing. Despite the two-and-a-half-hour run time, the first act is rushed, and a significant plot point regarding the twist villain comes out of nowhere. The third act takes up most of the run-time and feels stretched out. It focuses far too much on some plot points, too little on others and not enough on most characters.

Netflix’s adaptation of the School for Good and Evil brushes over several major plot points, leaving it feeling shallow. (Photo from Netflix)

The movie also has many differences from the book. From someone who loved the original trilogy, the story feels lackluster. Two major plot points I adored in the book were brushed over, left as scenes that were shells of the book versions and did not serve the same narrative purpose, those being the trial by tale and circus of talents. Another major point, Agatha learning how to love herself, is severely modified and lacks the same emotional depth.

The music choice in the film is highly questionable at times, with an abundance of edgy teen music from artists such as Billie Eilish and Olivia Rodrigo. Though I can see the appeal that the movie is going for, it missed the mark for me. The music choices being so angsty turns several would-be powerful or fun scenes into soulless husks of their book counterparts, choosing to appeal to teenagers rather than enhance the scenes. And if the music loses its hype, the scenes will be forever damaged, if not ruined. For example, there is a montage scene that would have been fine, but Olivia Rodrigo’s Brutal playing in the background made me wish the montage was cut entirely.

Though I disliked the differences between the book and the movie, the diversity within the cast is a huge plus, and the addition of the character Gregor positively impacts the plot. Gregor adds a grounded sense to the fantastical school, allowing the audience to relate to him as he struggles to find his way. He acts as a double-edged sword, providing emotional moments and much-needed insight into Agatha.

At first, I did not like the casting choice due to the evil students being more conventionally attractive compared to their book counterparts, but their appearances grew on me throughout the runtime, partly due to the stunning hair, makeup and costume design.

I cannot overstate how pretty the film looked. All of the outfits worn by the cast are visually appealing, from the grunge aesthetic of the school for evil to the vibrant and soft look of the school for good. The costuming choices all accurately represent the characters, as do the hair and makeup. For example, the costumes worn by Clarissa Dovey were all gorgeous and fit her character perfectly, and her hair and makeup only complement them.

In addition to the visuals, the acting is a huge positive. The performances of the leads, Sofia Wylie and Sophia Anne Caruso, are packed with emotion and blend in well with the fantasy-esque setting. While the story is lackluster, the acting saves many scenes I would have otherwise disliked. The actresses’ passion for the project is evident, and their natural chemistry mirrored that of Sophie and Agatha.

“The School for Good and Evil” would have been much better off as a TV series, with one season dedicated to each franchise entry. This would have helped the pacing and allowed for several more plot points to be developed, fleshing out the characters and adding more depth to already emotional scenes. 

While the film is bearable, I would not watch it again, nor would I recommend it. Though I could follow the plot due to my semi-obsession with the book series when I was younger, it would have been hard to follow as a newcomer, especially in the mediocre first act.