Malcolm D. Lee’s Night School is everything that we have come to expect from Hart and Haddish, a fun time with cheeky, sarcastic jokes, and great laughs. From the producers and director of GirlsTrip, Night School is a hilarious comedy that subtly brings to the forefront many important issues plaguing education today. These include cultural bias on standardized tests, state testing practices, the consequences of unaddressed learning disabilities, and a need for more culturally sensitive teachers and administration.
In Night School, Teddy (Kevin Hart) is a barbeque salesman who lives beyond his financial means and inevitably comes to learn that, in life, there are truly no shortcuts. After a series of unfortunate events–and in an attempt to impress his beautiful and self-sufficient fiancé, Lisa (Megalyn Echikunawoke)–Teddy decides to get his high school GED. He finds himself facing a high school nemesis from his past, Stewart (Taran Killam) who is now the principal. Stewart Patterson (Killam) still harbors resentment towards Teddy and has a few plans of his own for the night school newcomer.
In true Teddy fashion, he plans on schmoozing his way through night school, but not without a few bumps along the way. First, there’s Carrie (Tiffany Haddish), a brash, no-nonsense teacher who is overworked and underpaid. She doesn’t tolerate slacking or cheating. She’s unorthodox and has a unique approach to teaching, but underneath it all, she has a heart for her students.
The Night School students are unique, to say the least. They all represent different stages and facets of life and personify the consequences of choices made. There’s Theresa (Mary Lynn Rajskub) who is a housewife with several kids and an overbearing husband. She just knows that she’s blessed, but the verdict is still out on how it’s working. Mila (Anne Winters) is a cute hipster who is only attending night school to avoid going to juvenile detention. Luis (Al Madrigal) wants to be a dental hygienist, but he can’t even pronounce the word, “hygienist”. Jalen (Romany Malco) is an enlightened, “woke” brother, or so he thinks. Bobbie, a prison inmate, played by Fat Joe is working on his GED via Skype. Additionally, Rob Riggle, a father who’s at odds with his son–who is thinking about giving up on school himself–completes the night school crew.
Night School is the comedy that we’ve come to expect from producers Kevin Hart and Will Packer. While there will be lots of laughs, there are segments of the storyline that are serious in nature. In one scene, Teddy’s father, Gerald (Keith David) berates him and calls him dumb. Teddy is not dumb, he just learns differently. Gerald, Teddy’s father is the embodies the attitude of indifference and otherness that many adults, parents, and even some educators have when interfacing with others who learn differently.
Night School gives viewers the opportunity to consider the ways in which traditional education may have failed non-traditional learners. Carrie is an educator who is not afraid to go the extra mile to get the best out of her students. When she learns of Teddy’s disabilities, she takes the learning outside of the classroom, and into the boxing ring. The physical element of boxing provides a trigger for Teddy, giving his memorization skills a boost. In the role of Carrie, we get to see a bit more warmth from Haddish on the screen that we haven’t seen before. Yes, there’s the excessive cursing and brash, comical sarcasm. But the blow of her character’s brash nature is softened by her genuine intentions.
As Teddy, Hart projects the lack of awareness and shame that people turn to as a result of being assessed with a learning disability. In one scene, in a way that only Hart can deliver, he interprets his disability to be an STD. While this is comical on the surface, there’s some truth in the embarrassment that many learners harbor as a result of their learning difference.
There are some sub-narratives within the film that lend themselves towards mockery and a perpetuation of stereotypes about Black men, Black women, and Christians. In one scene, a strange business owner of a chicken restaurant prays over his employees and Teddy, but the scene is scripted in a mocking, ridiculous manner.
While it’s designed to be funny, the whole display just comes across as strange. Prayer is effective, so for those of us who are believers, the scene almost mocks prayer. Mocking church scenes are a theme in most Black comedies, yet it gets tired after a while. The same happens when the film leans on the “aggressive Black woman” trope. In a scene, the teacher is body-slamming Teddy and choking him out to get him to say the answer to a problem. In another scene, Carrie (Haddish) whips a grown Teddy with a belt. These types of images unfairly perpetuate the aggressive, overbearing Black woman stereotype.
However, most of Night School is a fun, in-your-face comedy that shares that journey of a man who ultimately decided that anything is possible. This comedy showcases the benefits of what can happen when you have educators that are not afraid to go outside of the box to reach their students. When educators are willing to apply positive alternative methods to teaching, the possibilities can be limitless. With the exception of a few stereotypical moments, Night School is everything that audiences would anticipate from the dynamic duo of Hart and Haddish.
Surprisingly, Night School sheds light on many important issues left under the radar as it pertains to education, cultural bias on standardized tests, and bringing more attention and resources to educators who specialize in alternative forms of educating. Night School just may have created a beautiful opportunity for more conversations to come forth about more professional development for educators in the areas of special education and a need for more support and resources for parents of children and students who learn differently.
Night School opens in theaters nationwide on September 28th, 2018. The comedy is rated PG-13, for some crude and sexual content throughout, language, some drug references and violence. The running time is 111 minutes. This Universal Pictures film is directed by Malcolm D. Lee. The film is co-produced by Kevin-Hart, Will Packer, James Lopez, and Glenda Richardson.