“Mr. Woodcock” presents itself as a simple comedy involving a man, John Farley (Seann William Scott) returning home, only to find that his mother is now shacking up with his junior high school physical education coach. Of course, this coach was a real nightmare. A flashback sequence in the beginning of the film shows us how Woodcock treated his students, especially the non-jock types, like crap. Just imagine if Billy Bob Thornton’s “Bad Santa” character was a teacher. Wait a second, Thornton plays Woodcock… is there a pattern starting to emerge?
Actually, this pattern has long since emerged over the past few years. Apparently filmmakers think that only Billy Bob Thornton can verbally abuse kids in a humorous fashion. “Bad Santa” started it, “Bad News Bears” solidified it, and “School for Scoundrels” should have been the end of it. We get it, ha ha, now let’s move on.
Woodcock’s harsh teaching methods basically shaped Farley to what he is today. He’s become a self-help guru whose specialty involves letting go of your past. His book garnered the attention of millions of readers and press alike. Even Oprah wants to bring him on her show.
Farley’s career is put on hold, however, because he hatches a plan to try pull his mother away from Woodcock. He enlists the assistance of a childhood friend, Nedderman (Ethan Suplee), who was also tormented by this coach in his youth, to try and discover something shady with Woodcock. Their plan(s) involve spying on him and breaking into house. The latter is a complete bust, as Woodcock comes home and the two frantically try to find a hiding spot. Farley opts to hide under the bed. That may have been a good idea on a different day but when his mom shows up for a mid-day rendezvous, Farley has to bite his tongue and wait for it to end.
One of the main themes of this film is the idea of letting go of your past. Farley is a man deeply troubled by his, whereas his nemesis Woodcock never thinks about it. Which method is right? I guess it varies person to person. Some go through life without ever being affected by their past, where others are strangely stuck to it. This film isn’t deep enough to tackle such philosophies. It makes a case for both sides but you can deduce that this was probably just a fluke. The writers intended on writing a funny script about a kid and his physical education coach who is now banging his mom.
Only it’s really not all that funny. A good portion of this material was better in other Thornton films. And we’ll probably seem him play this sort of role again too. Will we ever see him play a real badass, like he was in “One False Move” (Carl Franklin, 1992), ever again? All “Mr. Woodcock” gives us is mediocre comedy at its finest.