Between No Hard Feelings, Joy Ride, and Bottoms, female-fronted comedy has had an admirable run in 2023, managing to balance crude humour with a sense of earnestness. The Re-Education of Molly Singer, sadly, doesn’t continue that trend.
With a narrative hook that isn’t too displaced from the aforementioned No Hard Feelings, whilst also owing a little of its personality to Drew Barrymore’s 1999 charmer Never Been Kissed, but, you know, without any of that film’s inherent sweetness, Andy Palmer‘s “comedy” never takes advantage of his promising concept, falling on auto-pilot with a lazy script that never travels where it should.
One thing that the film has going for it is Britt Robertson. A likeable presence who’s never really managed an opportunity to step into the spotlight she deserves – the wildly underperforming Tomorrowland seemingly ending any possibility of her leading any other studio project – with her turn as the titular Molly Singer being injected with a modicum of light that makes the quite unlikeable character watchable for the film’s unfairly long 120 minutes.
We gather that Molly had quite the “college experience” when attending Barnett University, and despite walking away with a law degree – the film never making us believe she’d be a remotely good lawyer – it was her party persona that clearly made her a campus favourite; a mentality she assumes will get her through the rest of her existence. One person who isn’t here for Molly’s lack of awareness is Brenda (Jaime Pressly, doing her best with barely-there material), her boss who, rightfully, shows Molly the door when she oversleeps and misses a crucial court hearing.
But because this is a comedy, apparently, and situational humour is what is needed to push us forward, Molly, despite being fired (and probably costing her client either a mass sum or potentially his freedom), is brought on by Brenda in a different employment capacity, one that should she succeed at will result in her getting her job back. It’s utter bullshit, but I suppose better comedies have given us less…
Brenda’s son, you see, is a bit of a social outcast at Barnett, thanks in large part to unintentionally injuring the college’s star sports pupil, and it’s clear his anxiety won’t let him continue on as the campus leper. Enter Molly and her apparent charm that will be enough to hypnotise the student body at large and convince everyone that Brenda’s offspring – Elliot (Ty Simpkins) – is the big man on campus; and because the script clearly equates status to the size of one’s organ, Elliot being well endowed apparently makes him inherently more likeable.
Molly having to get close to Elliot and infiltrate the campus means she has to re-enrol, so she decides that if she’s giving it the old college try a second time around, so should her enabling bestie Ollie (Nico Santos). A better, braver comedy would probably address their toxic friendship, her clear alcoholism, and what the wasted days of her youth clearly cost her, but this isn’t that film, and all such is played for laughs, which, in turn, means so little of Todd Friedman and Kevin Haskin‘s script lands a gag.
Despite the collective talent of the ensemble, The Re-Education of Molly Singer plods along with a formulaic mentality that basically rinses and repeats the notion that drinking is the key to popularity. I understand that you can’t have a college-set comedy without a party sequence, but Molly pushing this only reaffirms the stereotypical nature of the writing. And if it isn’t pandering to the lowest denominator, there’s a bizarre string of humour Friedman and Haskin hopes is edgy enough to justify its existence, with Brenda taking Elliot to a strip-club to teach him the value of consent (he has to slap a stripper to have this driven home) and the very-homosexual Ollie having to perform sexual favours for a female QAnon, Trump-loving clerk at the college’s housing desk. It makes no sense and isn’t remotely funny; semi-suggestive rape rarely is.
What could have been a non-sensical, exaggerated comedy that knew how to balance its bad habits with a genuine sense of social understanding, this is one such outing that desperately needed a re-education of its own, as, despite Robertson and Pressly’s best efforts, this fails to pass its genre test.
ONE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
The Re-Education of Molly Singer is screening in select theatres and available On Digital and On Demand in the United States from September 29th, 2023. An Australian release is yet to be determined.