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The Vector

NJIT's Student Newspaper

The Vector

NJIT's Student Newspaper

The Vector

‘The School for Good and Evil’: Too Much and Not Enough 

This review contains spoilers.  

I first read “The School for Good and Evil,” a fantasy book by Soman Chainani, when I was in middle school. The novel revolves around best friends Sophie and Agatha, ordinary teenagers from a small, Middle Ages-esque village who are whisked away to the titular School for Good and Evil. This academic institution educated the most famous heroes and villains of old, such as King Arthur, Snow White, and the Evil Queen. 

The problem is that they are placed in the wrong schools. Beautiful Sophie, who dreams of becoming a princess, is dropped into the School for Evil, and “unsightly” Agatha, who lives with her witch mother and black cat, is enrolled in the School for Good. While Sophie tries to swap places and Agatha tries to just go home, conflicts brew between the two.  

I didn’t love it instantly, but the concept was intriguing — it’s rare that a children’s book becomes so dark. Throughout the school year covered in the plot, there was death, transformation, and murder — events I didn’t expect the two teenage protagonists to participate in. The book also has a sardonic sense of humor that makes it mildly enjoyable to read as an adult, more like a parody of high school cliques, drama, and romance than a true fantasy fairytale.  

When the film version was announced by Netflix, I’ll admit that I felt a little frisson of excitement. You see, the world of “A School for Good and Evil” is described as so magical and unique that I wasn’t sure how it could be replicated by Netflix, which has a somewhat hit-or-miss track record with computer-generated imagery. When I clicked the red ‘play’ button, however, I knew that my concerns had been misplaced.  

The film stars Sophia Anne Caruso and Sofia Wylie as young heroines Sophie and Agatha respectively. Directed by Paul Feig, the film also brings in several big names such as Michelle Yeoh, Charlize Theron, Cate Blanchett, and Kerry Washington. I can honestly say that in terms of sheer visual spectacle, this is one of the best movies I’ve seen this year.  

The storyline follows two brothers, the good Rhian and the evil Rafal, founders of the School for Good and Evil, who fight because Rafal is unhappy that evil always loses to good. Rhian eventually kills Rafal — or so it seems.  

Many years later, we are introduced to Sophie and Agatha, two misfit best friends from the village Gavaldon. While Sophie is considered too prissy for the down-to-earth villagers, Agatha is rumored to be a witch like her mother. Every two years, a force takes two children from Gavaldon to the School for Good and Evil.  

When Sophie and Agatha are abducted, they are placed in the wrong schools and struggle to fit in with their peers. Rhian tells them that the only way Sophie can switch schools is to find her true love. Sophie hopes that this is Tedros, the son of Prince Arthur, who is coincidentally the most popular boy in the School for Good.  

Inter-school relationships between “Evers,” or students in the School for Good, and “Nevers,” students in the School for Evil, are forbidden, but Sophie sets her mind to win over Tedros. She enlists a reluctant Agatha into the scheme, who has also begun to fall for Tedros herself. Although Sophie was initially helpless as a Never, her powers begin to grow; for the first time in 200 years, there is a possibility that evil might triumph over good.  

When Tedros’ and Sophie’s relationship is tested, she betrays him and they split, with Tedros leaving her for Agatha. Sophie fully embraces her evil powers and destroys both schools after turning into a hideous hag. It is revealed that Rafal, the evil brother, is not dead, and has been manipulating Sophie since she arrived at the School for Evil.  

After a drawn-out conflict, Rafal is killed, and Sophie is mortally wounded. The distraught Agatha kisses Sophie’s forehead, healing her. The friends apologize to one another, clasping hands and magically returning to Gavaldon.  

Does it sound like a lot for one movie? I agree, but the most egregious sin is the time scale of all these events. In the book, everything above happens gradually, over the course of the school year. The film portrays the entire story within two weeks!  

The audience is supposed to believe that Sophie turns evil, betrays her friends, and kills multiple people within 14 days of entering school, despite being a perfectly normal person for every preceding year of her life. During the same period, Tedros falls in and out of love with three separate girls. This absurd choice makes the film seem even more like a parody of high school than the book, and I couldn’t help laughing whenever a character mentioned the time. 

Other irritating aspects of the film were the styling, casting, and personality given to Agatha. A major theme of the book is that appearances are deceiving, and several paragraphs are devoted to describing how ordinary — and even ugly — Agatha is compared to Sophie. Even when Agatha realizes she is truly good and belongs in the School for Good, she does not change physically, but rather gains confidence in herself.  

I felt this was a meaningful and touching part of Agatha’s character and development. The film completely discards this message; Agatha is played by a beautiful actress who is made up and styled to look exactly like a Disney princess. Although Wylie performs admirably in the role given to her, I couldn’t help thinking that the initial message had been diluted to draw in more fans. 

On a more positive note, the roles of Sophie, Agatha, and Tedros, played by Jamie Flatters, were perfectly cast. Caruso, Wylie, and Flatters played very believable angsty teenagers, and the trio had good chemistry and natural delivery. The weak points were, surprisingly, seasoned actors such as Washington, Theron, and Yeoh, who struggled with over-acting and maneuvering their costumes naturally.  

I believe that this film would have been much better as a mini-series. Not only would the incredible set have been showcased more, but the audience would have had the chance to get acquainted with the characters better. The plot was overwhelming, and far too many subplots from the book were crammed in; multiple episodes would have portrayed these better.  

Crucially, a series would have added the sense of passing time that this film sorely lacked. Overall, “The School for Good and Evil” gets two out of five crabs from me. There’s potential, but not much else. 

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Mrunmayi Joshi, Managing Editor
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