Community college science professor Bill (David Christian Welborn) has a loving wife, Diane (Deborah O’Brien), who desperately would like more intimate time with her often distracted husband. Bill couldn’t be less interested, however, as he is obsessed with a webcam girl, Dani Darling. His busy days teaching and busier nights on the internet with Dani have left Bill unavailable to both his wife and teenage daughter, Hannah (Emily Bicks).
Things take a turn for the surreal, however, when a new student, Marissa (Noelle Dubois), joins Bill’s class. She looks an awful lot like Dani Darling, and Bill finds himself in the unique position of having his fantasies fulfilled, such as finally meeting his obsession in person, and some new unexpected nightmares realized when it becomes clear how compromised a position he has put himself in.
Christopher Smith’s Biology 101 is a challenging film to embrace. It’d be one thing if Bill had simply made a mistake and gotten caught up in a sexual obsession to deal with the other problems he has in his life, and that very well could be the case, but he also shows signs of anger and violence that, while maybe not entirely realized, paint him far more in the deviant, potentially psychopathic, camp. Which, you know, is hard to sympathize with as a main character. Not only has he brought everything on himself, but he’s been a real creep along the way.
Other characters in the film, however, are easy to get behind. Bill’s wife Diane is not some vindictive beast making Bill’s life miserable; quite the contrary, she’s supportive and often just wants to connect sexually with her husband. Their daughter Hannah is a typical teenager, starting to find more and more conflicts with her parents, but otherwise seems to be a good kid. Even Marissa, for as much as she instigates some of the drama to come by the end of the film, is painted somewhat sympathetically, as she’s just trying to get an education, and doesn’t need her professor slobbering all over her.
So there’s the give and take of connecting with the characters. Whatever happens to Bill, for the most part, he brought on himself and, often, deserves what he gets for taking things too far; it’s hard to connect with him in a meaningful way. The periphery characters often exist to be hurt by the fallout (including, comically, fellow professor Marty (Morgan Peter Brown)), so you feel bad for them most of the time.
Still, for as creepy as some of the undertones in this film are, the film doesn’t go as dark as it could. There’s a weird tonal mix of a family drama, with some mid-life crisis thrown in for good measure, some light comedy and sexual perversion that results in a film that seems to exist along multiple planes but never fully commits to any one. Thus, moments are funny, but not too funny. Things get dark, but never too dark (though the potential is certainly there). Sometimes the mix works, other times it’s tonally confusing.
But there are little touches that serve to elevate the experience. The art direction had some fun with this one, as posters, test answers and the like all appear to offer lewd suggestions for our professor at one time or another. This shows how the mundane aspects of his job are conspiring with the downward spiral of his sexual deviance to make “normal” life truly challenging for Bill.
And then there’s the score which, for the most part, I did not enjoy. It often felt too kooky for me, and seemed to call more attention to itself than working to make the entire experience better. Not my cup of tea, simply.
In the end, Biology 101 is a film that plays with tone, sometimes to a disconcerting extent, but overall works. You know, if you can get beyond the fact that the main character can be pretty creepy, and walked himself right into this situation. You may have to find someone else to root for, but as a study of life, which is often as muddled and insane a tonal mix as this film sometimes exhibits, this is probably more true a story than many would expect.
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