The quiet reason why Night School (2018) matters

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Tiffany Haddish and Kevin Hart lead Night School, a comedy with more to it than it’s sometimes given credit for.

This article contains light spoilers for Night School.

If you’re like me, there are film nights where you know you fancy a comedy, but can’t for the life of you settle on one. My go-to recommendations of recent times have been Game Night, Blockers, Instant Family and Fighting With My Family. But should Night School, starring Kevin Hart and Tiffany Haddish, pop up on a viewing carousel at some point, I’d encourage you to not skip past it.

It’s written by Hart, Harry Ratchford, Joey Wells, Matthew Kellard, Nicholas Stoller and John Hamburg, directed by Malcolm D Lee. The film came out around 18 months ago, and was a modest hit. Tiffany Haddish is excellent in it, and I’ve long had a soft spot too for Kevin Hart movie comedies. The Wedding Ringer is the one that I like that nobody else seems to.

And truth be told, when I first reviewed Night School in my previous job, I was one of those who could fairly be said to not be fighting that hard for the film. In hindsight, I just wanted more of the comedy that the film seemed to be offering, and it was in the genre where it was being sold that I felt it fell a little short.

I still feel that, but this apparently throwaway comedy from 18 months ago has stuck in my mind ever since.

The plot, if you’re not familiar, finds Hart’s Teddy (character name, not item of clothing) joining, well, a night school. His class, overseen by Haddish’s Carrie, is a disparate bunch of high school dropouts, who are attending school to belated get their GED exam pass, and thus graduate high school, a long time after they actually left. I had no idea what the GED was, but soon got the gist.

I think Hart’s Teddy (again, person not garment) is one of the most important roles he’s played on screen. I’ve long felt that if you want to have a conversation about sometimes tricky topics, that a broad comedy is one of the best ways to do so. Look at how The Full Monty discusses suicide, and mental health, in the midst of a comedy supposedly about men taking their clothes off.

Hart keeps his clothes on here, yet the film around him is having, on the quiet, a deathly serious conversation. For we learn that his Teddy (you’ve got the gist by now) has apparently been struggling with intelligence throughout his life. That he’s been dismissed as not being clever. In fact, one member of his family in the film continually reminds him of this.

But conversely, it’s clear he’s bright, he’s just on the surface not ticking academic boxes.

And then this scene happens. I’ll summarise it a little underneath if you don’t want to watch it out of the context of the film…

What we learn here is that Teddy has dyslexia and dyscalculia, as well as a processing order. He’s not unusual there: many people around the world can relate to that. But how many times has this been addressed carefully and with respect in a major Hollywood movie? I remember when Doctor Who series 11 began, and being bowled over that one of the new character – Ryan – was seen as struggling to ride a bike thanks to his dyspraxia. Night School wants to, and does, raise that issue too.

What’s really, really helpful is that because Night School has a movie budget, it can also put on screen a visualisation of what Teddy is up against on screen. I don’t have a clip of that, but just to say it makes a proper effort to get across for outsiders what it all looks like for Teddy.

Perhaps it’s me being a little dramatic, but this is how things change, isn’t it? Because for those watching not affected by dyslexia, dyscalculia and/or a processing disorder, it’s a pivotal moment in the film, you’re not hit over the head with it, and there’s the chance to gain some empathy and understanding. For those who are, perhaps there’s just a little bit of destigmatising too. That Hart’s Teddy (help yourself) sees that he’s not done anything wrong, that he’s not lacking in intelligence, and can build towards the film’s ending that you may be able to guess at, but have no intention of spoiling.

I think it’s an important film, this, as well as being an entertaining one. And sure, I do wish it was a bit funnier, and it’s not my favourite Kevin Hart or Tiffany Haddish movie.

But I do also think that it’s a film they’ve made that may just help someone’s life. How many comedies sat on digital viewing carousels can you say that about?

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