There have been quite a few teacher-student obsession movies, and none of them very good. Can The Tutor break through the stream of mediocrity and give us something decent? Unfortunately, as much as I was rooting for it to deliver, it doesn’t. This is frankly due to the screenplay, which had one interesting idea going for it and just went all in on that, failing to properly set up all the twists and revelations it has to offer.
Garett Hedlund plays Ethan, a sought-after tutor for the elite because of his ability to connect with these students and help them get their desired results. The first few minutes of the film is incredible, as we flit through a montage of Ethan’s tutoring skills and the immense wealth his tutees are surrounded with. These shots are campy and over the top that I mistakenly thought we were in for some proper satire. After that start, we veer into thriller mode, when Ethan is hired to be a full-time live-in tutor for Jackson (Noah Schnapp).
Immediately something’s not quite right, since Jackson is able to ace any paper Ethan throws his way, so why the need for a tutor then? Ethan doesn’t really bother himself with that, since it’s easy money, and he’s about to have a baby with girlfriend Annie (Victoria Justice). And then things get weirder. Jackson seems to be privy to aspects of Ethan’s private life, basically demands that Ethan takes his photo but not in a “creepy” way, and drops in to Ethan’s side of the house for unsanctioned visits.
There’s something not quite right about the picture, as Jackson doesn’t seem overly attached to Ethan despite this show he’s putting on. Schnapp absolutely commits though, and he and Hedlund together on screen offer up some entertaining moments.
The film wants us to think that it’s not giving us blatant exposition, but then has a throwaway scene with Annie and her friend discussing Ethan’s infidelity. There is no purpose to the scene besides that particular revelation, and might have worked better as a discussion between the couple. With news of his infidelity, his problems with alcohol, and a hideous haircut, the film clearly wants us to dislike Ethan, but it needs to do more than suggest problematic behaviour. Hedlund’s performance makes Ethan fairly relatable, and we can understand the resentment he feels towards his wealthy clients, since financial security is something he has to work all his life to achieve, when it’s just handed to them on a silver platter.
Despite Ethan’s misgivings about Jackson, he nonetheless accepts the offer to continue the tutoring through the entire summer. While it seems strange that he would do so after establishing to his friends how obsessed Jackson is with him, the film does show us that Ethan is willing to put up with a fair bit for money.
Things begin to go incredibly sideways for Ethan, as Jackson seems determined to teach him a lesson but he has no clue what he’s done to encourage such ire. It’s only in the last act that we see the whole picture, and why Jackson’s latched on to Ethan. At this point, every piece of dialogue is exposition as The Tutor didn’t do enough work in the first two acts for us to feel anything about this so-called twist. We go from obsession flick to quite a different genre at the end, and it simply doesn’t work.
Review screener provided.
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