Adam Zielinski’s short film, Class, opens with a question that college students have debated since time immemorial: how late does a professor have to be for class before it’s acceptable to just get up and leave?
Bathed in ugly fluorescent light, drowsy-looking, and disaffected, the students in this low-rent college’s feature film development class don’t seem like the type to eagerly await some sage tutelage on the art of moviemaking. So, with nearly ten minutes gone by, it’s a minor miracle that they’re still sitting there. And when the professor (Lundon Boyd) finally does show up, it turns out he’s just as preoccupied as they are, yammering into his phone about a lunch meeting and not making eye contact with any of them.
The Paper Chase, this is not.
Written by Boyd, Class is a satire of modern college life at the less prestigious end of the spectrum, and it’s a bleak one, at that. Though the students are ostensibly aspiring creatives, and their instructor has professional experience in the movie industry to pass along, it pretty quickly becomes clear that nobody in this room is living up to the lofty ideals of higher education. At first, Boyd’s unnamed professor lays on the arrogance and condescension. He knows big movie producers, he says, and they wouldn’t dream of working with any of these uninspired, lazy-eyed students.
“…how late does a professor have to be for class before it’s acceptable to just get up and leave?”
“What kind of movies you gonna make?” he asks a particularly blank-faced would-be filmmaker.
The halfhearted, non-committal reply: “Jaws?”
And so it goes until, in a shift that’s very deftly handled by the writer and director, the professor’s insecurities, frustrations, and failures start to overtake his ersatz attempt to light a fire under his students. As his facade begins to crack, he becomes both pathetic and sympathetic, and Boyd’s script and performance start to reveal layers well beyond the mean-spirited piss-take that Class at first threatens to be.
The film is a fine showcase for Boyd’s acting chops, and it gets in a few moderately clever digs about the state of both education and cinema in our jaded, uncertain era. One of the smartest choices made here is to ultimately not play the professor as a smug, arrogant monster, and even the students eventually score a few moments where they don’t seem to be completely callous and uninspired. Nobody on screen is a pure caricature, and those who’ve gone to school for filmmaking (or, really, any creative discipline) will likely see glimpses of people they spent time with in class. That was surely true for me.
But, that said, it’s a little hard to see exactly what Zielinski and Boyd were going for with all this. Class has a few mild laughs, but it’s not quite a comedy, and its satirical targets tend a little bit toward the obvious. It doesn’t feel like the filmmakers are out to air any particular frustrations of their own – they’ve racked up an impressive number of IMDB credits and seem to be doing just fine. So, then, what’s the takeaway? The closing line is a telling “What the f**k?” and it’s fair to assume that viewers might be left with that very same thought ringing in their heads.
"…a fine showcase for Boyd's acting chops..."