“Bad Education” – A.J. Hakari

Pedro Almodovar is one of those filmmakers who, even if he turns out a flick that’s not that good, always comes up with something funky. Of course, until Bad Education came about, I dug all of the man’s films that I’d seen, but despite not measuring even closely to the quality or depth of movies such as All About My Mother or even Live Flesh, this effort at least manages to rank as an interesting failure.

Set in 1980, Bad Education revolves around Enrique Goded (Fele Martinez), a film director who, one day, runs into an old school friend, Ignacio (Gael Garcia Bernal), who now prefers to be called “Angel.” But alas, this isn’t a mere social call, as Angel gives Enrique a story he wrote, one that mirrors the past they once shared together. In the story, a transvestite caberet performer named Zahara (also played by Bernal) comes upon a young man who turns out to be a guy he used to attend a Catholic school with. Zahara flashes back to when they were kids, when both became victims of sexual abuse on behalf of a priest (Daniel Giminez Cacho), found solace in each others’ arms, and were torn apart when their relationship was uncovered. With memories flooding back to him, Enrique decides to turn Angel’s story into his next film project. But as the production begins, Enrique is about to discover that the story isn’t over yet, that the priest is hanging around and that Angel is carrying around a couple secrets of his own.

For about half of the running time, Bad Education unfolds in an alluring style that’s become indicative of Almodovar’s work. Continuing his theme of focusing on societal rejects with dark histories, Almodovar does a bang-up job of bringing out the tragic qualities in the story without ever casting an exploitative eye upon his quirky characters. This is a tough but absorbing film, one that isn’t afraid to brush closely towards uncomfortable subjects while at the same time telling a sound story about turning the most horrible of tragedies into one’s own artistic triumph. Bad Education was just about perfect, with a groovy structure that crisscrosses Angel’s story on film and in reality, not to mention damn good performances from Bernal and Cacho, playing the movie-within-a-movie’s version of the priest.

That is, until the twist.

Fear not, I won’t reveal what it is, but I will say that although it’s a good way to add powerful layers of emotion to the plot, Almodovar treats it like the freakin’ plague! It’s not so much underdeveloped as it is almost completely ignored, and as Almodovar moves onto other subplots, such as the molesting priest’s visit to the film set, this absence of attention just never ceases to nag at your soul. As a result, Bad Education as a whole sours up fast, reverting from mining emotional gold to pressing on long after the canary has died. The flick becomes a little slower, a little more meandering, and a little less focused than the fantastic start it got off to. I hate to pin so many faults on primarily one source, but in the case of Bad Education, Almodovar’s refusal to follow up on his own revelation nearly cripples the last act. Any profundity to be had is gone when only about two-thirds of the story is left resolved, a gaping hole in the plot that reeks of carelessness and missed opportunities. The ending lacks the same impact it could’ve had, the characters shed a little more depth, and, ever so slightly, the events beforehand brush up against a state of being a little inconsequential.

Fortunately, Bad Education boasts enough solid acting and gets off to a great enough start to salvage a good chunk of itself. It may mean that it’s half of a good movie, but at least half of great Almodovar is better than no Almodovar at all.

Rating: ★★½☆

-A.J. Hakari

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

Read Mathew Plale’s Bad Education review here.

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