“Charm School” – A.J. Hakari

For those who consider foreign cinema to be a Holy Grail that produces things unlike the world has seen, I offer up Charm School as Exhibit A to the contrary. This Mexican import is as safe and predictable as they come, even fit for family viewing if it wasn’t for a somewhat tawdry edge that doesn’t quite seem in sync with the rest of the film. But despite a conventional streak and not being all the things that it could be, Charm School at least manages to take pleasure in knowing the things that it’s not.

Martín León (Rafael Sánchez Navarro) is a senator who has his eyes on a prized gubernatorial position. All he needs is the support of a gazillionaire (Roberto D’Amico), and the job is pretty much his for the taking. Only one thing stands in his way to victory: his daughter Adela (Martha Higareda). A rebellious girl with a knack for causing public scandals, Adela’s behavior proves to be so much of a hassle, her pops sends her off to be “tamed” at a rigid finishing school, led by the no-nonsense Maca Rivera (Blanca Guerra). At first, Rivera’s sewing and cooking lessons prove to be no match for Adela, who leads some of her fellow classmates, including a rocker lesbian (Ximena Sariñana) and an enthusiastic ditz (María Aura), in bucking Rivera’s teachings and learning to think for themselves. But whether she likes it or not, Adela finds that the school has had an effect on her, moving her slowly from her wild child ways and towards becoming a more well-rounded young woman.

Though the story may not seem like it, Charm School isn’t a recruiting poster for the domestication of women, nor does it promote a “screw the world” sort of lifestyle. It has a wise enough head upon its shoulders to acknowledge that while Adela is great for staying true to herself and her beliefs, it wouldn’t hurt for her to act reasonably once in a while. Alternately, the film doesn’t fully depict Rivera as a Stepford Wife who’s stuck in the ’60s, but rather as a woman who wants to help prepare her students to face the harshness of the world with a bit of a smile on their faces. On any other day, Charm School would be a perfectly harmless flick about female empowerment, a reversed Mona Lisa Smile in which it’s a student changing the lives of those around her. Its aims aren’t even as grandiose, presenting itself as a “girls just wanna have fun” tale than a serious slice of social commentary.

But one would certainly think that Charm School would have engaged or even acknowledged its sexier side. After all, the film’s Spanish title is Niñas Mal (or Bad Girls), and topless shots of lead actress Higareda come across as nonchalantly as a minor cough. But Charm School puts itself in the awkward position of giving off hints of having a seamier side while at the same time virtually ignoring it. It wants to be the sort of movie mothers can have fun watching with their daughters, but the brief flashes of nudity seem to indicate that the filmmakers had dads in mind as well. That aside, for all the sweetness and good intentions that the film packs away, it’s not enough to save it from being as predictable as the changing of the seasons. Higareda oozes spunkiness out of every pore as Adela, but aside from Guerra as headmistress Rivera, most of the other cast members get stuck with pretty one-note roles (especially Navarro, who looks like he’d rather pull his own teeth before he hears another girly giggle).

Still, I should feel thankful that Charm School wasn’t a screechy, one-dimensional farce, a la Bratz. It embraces a good sense of morals and deals them out in a fairly diverting way. But if you’re looking for a spicy little comedy that tosses cinematic convention to the winds, you’re best off enrolling somewhere else than Charm School.

Rating: ★★½☆

-A.J. Hakari

Read more of A.J.’s reviews at ReelTalk Movie Reviews, Classic Movie Guide, and Terror Tube.

One Response to ““Charm School” – A.J. Hakari”

  1. PaPa Larry H Says:

    I was thinking about watching this flick, but after reading your review, I’m reconsidering doing that. Thanks!

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