Guidance, the directorial debut of writer and star Pat Mills, is a bleakly hilarious black comedy. The film follows David, a man-child who’s in denial about everything- his sexuality, his alcoholism, his unemployment, and his skin cancer diagnosis- who lies his way into a job as a high school guidance counselor. David, highly responsible as he is, starts to help the students by drinking with them, telling them to act as “slutty” as they like, and eventually getting into fights.
Unlike other “bad teacher” movies like, um, Bad Teacher, Daniel actually needs to deal with consequences, as it’s clear the audience that his charade won’t last very long. The setup is actually realistic, as Daniel uses another guidance councillor’s name, dresses like him, and works while the principal is away for the week.
The film moves at a brisk pace, setting up Daniel’s beak situation quickly. Students initially are skeptical of the new councillor after they routinely see him smoking and drinking on school grounds, but they soon accept him after he starts to help with unconventional advice and vodka shots during school hours. Taking on political correctness culture, Daniel’s advice actually works, and he even befriends Jabrielle, a student with a troubled home life.
Guidance’s quick pace and lean runtime prevent it from wearing out its premise. As the film enters the last act, it makes a wild left turn that really lets us dig into Daniel’s character. The film gets quite dark very quickly, but the bleak tone was always lurking under the surface, ignored by both Daniel and the audience.
Pat Mills gives a great performance, and really makes Daniel a real person, not just an addition to a jokey premise. Daniel has no friends, hangs a family portrait where every person besides himself is blacked out, and endlessly pushes off his rent. Essentially, he’s mentally ill, a fact that slowly becomes clear, but doesn’t have any desire to deal with any of his issues. He’s only digging a hole deeper, something that comes off clearly even with a comedic tone.
Guidance is a darkly funny character-driven comedy that elevates its seemingly familiar premise. Sure, the unconventional teacher gets results and the film certainly has its share of hilarious moments, but Guidance actually digs in and explores its lead with often uncomfortable detail.
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