-MONTHLY FILM & TV REVIEW-
cast: Billy Bob Thornton, Seann William Scott, Susan Sarandon, Ethan Suplee, and Kyley Baldridge
director: Craig Gillespie
84 minutes (12) 2007
widescreen ratio 16:9
EIV DVD Region 2 retail
reviewed by Ian R. Faulkner
Now, I love a good comedy and, in general, I like Billy Bob Thornton. After all, he's an
Oscar winning actor who has delivered some damn fine movies, both serious and comedic, and
he's a nut (well, that is, if you believe all the gossip column hoopla). He also excels
at playing strange, on-the-fringe characters. I mean who can forget the silent and possibly
alien Ed Crane from The
Man Who Wasn't There or, better yet, the alcoholic, criminal misanthrope Willie from
Bad Santa (2003). So, put the two together and you'd have thought I'd have been as happy
as the proverbial pig-in-mud. Wrong. Mr Woodcock is dire.
It deals with John Farley (Seann William Scott), author of the successful self-help bestseller,
'Letting Go: Getting Past Your Past', who has returned home to visit his widowed mom, Beverly
(Susan Sarandon), in order to share the news he is to be honoured with his hometown's highest
accolade, the Corn Cob Key.
However, upon his arrival back in Nebraska John unfortunately discovers Beverly has news
of her own. It seems she has a new man in her life and, much to John's horror, he soon finds
out his mother's new beau is none other than his old nemesis, gym teacher and inspiration
for his bestseller, Jasper Woodcock (Thornton). To make matters worse, John quickly learns
Woodcock, unlike himself, has not changed one little bit in all this time. He is still the
sadistic, militaristic bully who seemingly delighted in humiliating, insulting and abusing
the sensitive and overweight 13-year-old John (played by Kyley Baldridge).
At first John tries to come to terms with Woodcock and his mom, but, as he is forced to
relive and face his past degradation anew, he rapidly thrusts aside his own positive philosophy
of letting go the past and enlists the help of his old friend and fellow Woodcock hater,
Nedderman (Ethan Suplee of My Name Is Earl fame), in order to prove the apple of his
mom's eye is not the man Beverley (and bizarrely and unbelievably the rest of the town) thinks
John and Nedderman follow Woodcock around, dig into the man's past, and even go so far as
to break into his house in an attempt to find anything to undermine Jasper's hold on Beverly.
Finally, in desperation, John challenges Woodcock to a corn eating contest at the local carnival,
much to disgust of both Beverly and John's date, ex-high school crush Tracy (Melissa Sagemiller),
and then, when this fails, vents his spleen openly at the joint award ceremony (the town are
honouring Woodcock with the 'educator of the year' award as well as presenting John with the
Corn Cob Key), which ultimately leads us to the film's predicable showdown and overly clichéd
All very disappointing and, although Mr Woodcock does have a few chuckles hidden within
it, sadly not enough to pull it above a generous, in my opinion, four-out-of-ten score. The only
positive things I can say about Mr Woodcock is that it doesn't last too long and it does
contain Billy Bob Thornton and Susan Sarandon, even if the plot seriously wastes both their
considerable talents - Thornton especially appears to be coasting through the material, delivering
a lacklustre, one dimensional performance barely above a somnambulistic shuffle.
The main problem I found with Mr Woodcock is I didn't buy any of the characters and
their motivations and so didn't really give a stuff what happened to them. Jasper Woodcock
is an unredeemable dick (pun intended) and even a poor mid-film attempt to engender sympathy
by showing us his hateful and domineering, wheelchair bound father (played by Bill Macy) does
little to change things. The man is a dick. It's obvious. It's in your face from the get go,
so why are we expected to believe Farley and Nedderman are the only people over 13 who see
Woodcock for what he is? I mean, Beverly thinks he's charming, Tracy thinks he's a catch, the
town think he's the best thing since sliced bread and yet all we see on screen is a dick.
On top of all that, as if that's not enough, Farley's sidekick and co-conspirator, Nedderman,
is an idiot and Farley himself, supposedly a calm, self-assured, self-help guru, comes over
as nothing so much as a childish, Oedipal momma's boy who should grow up and follow his own
advice (though in truth this impression wasn't helped by the fact I struggled to not see Seann
William Scott as Stifler from American Pie). In fact, the only likable character was
Maggie (Amy Poehler), Farley's irreverent, alcoholic bitch of an agent, who it seemed also got
all the good lines.
In summary, rent it only if you're bored, as, whilst Mr Woodcock could have soared,
it does nothing more than fall flat on its face.