Straight A’s (2013)

Straight A’s
Director: James Cox
Writer: Dave Cole
Cast: Ryan Phillippe, Anna Paquin, Luke Wilson, Riley Thomas Stewart, Ursula Parker, Amparo Garcia-Crow, Augustin Solis, Tess Harper, Powers Boothe, Christa Campbell
Seen on: 30.4.2020

Plot:
Scott (Ryan Phillippe) is the family screw-up and he hasn’t shown his face at home in a while. But after he has a vision of his dead mother (Tess Harper) telling him to make amends with his brother William (Luke Wilson), his sister-in-law and first love Katherine (Anna Paquin) and his father (Powers Boothe), Scott just shows up at Katherine’s home while William is on a business trip. As he waits for William to return, Scott causes an uproar for Katherine and her kids (Riley Thomas Stewart, Ursula Parker) who take a shine to their newly discovered uncle. Scott himself is uneasy with his own plan, drunk all the time and really not all that well.

Straight A’s is so firmly rooting for Scott without really acknowledging his many flaws or interested in him making up for past (and current) transgressions, that it is just annoying. I didn’t care for redeeming Scott, I wanted to strangle him instead. The film can’t work that way.

On a sidenote: in a film that is obviously trying to be smart and deep and that is so firmly rooted in its own privilege, that incorrect apostrophe in the title is annoying as fuck.

The film poster showing Katherine (Anna Paquin), Scott (Ryan Philippe) and William (Luke Wilson). An arrow points from Scott to Katherine with "He loves her", another arrow from Katherine to William with "She's married to his brother".

[SPOILERS]

Straight A’s thinks it’s a film about redemption. A film that speaks to being forgiving and coming together as a family – before it’s too late. As a vehicle for that message it chose not only a rich white family in the South (the only people of color in the film are the family employees), but Scott. Scott struggles with addiction, though it used to be worse. His mental health isn’t the best. Shit happened with pretty much everybody in his family. Not all of it is his fault, but some of it is at least his responsibility. To make up for all of that, he shows up unannounced at his family home, gets drunk all the time, takes no responsibility whatsoever and the big thing he does to show that he is actually serious about making things better? He shows up to his nephew’s school recital when he says he would. Whoop-dee-freaking-doo, you managed the bare minimum.

The film seems to sense that maybe the audience will not really buy into Scott’s redemption like this – even if the dude is like super-nice to “the help” to show that he isn’t just another rich asshole. So, in the end the film reveals that Scott actually has a brain tumor (that gave him the vision of his mum) and he is dying – and you really can’t hold a grudge against a dying person, can you? So everybody better forgive him immediately. The death is also the perfect opportunity to turn him into some kind of messiah that brings the family together as a whole with his sacrifice. Ugh.

William (Luke Wilson) and Katherine (Anna Paquin) in their home.

Meanwhile, Katherine is faced with an ex who explodes her life with his arrival and riles up her children; and an husband who is this close to divorcing her because he has grown so estranged (in a harrowing moment he says to his friend that Katherine probably has no idea how much he struggles with their relationship). My heart went out to her, but next to Scott, the film really had no room for a whole lot of empathy for her.

I’m sure this could have been a compelling story if it had been a little more honest about Scott – who is in a difficult position and still should have handled things better. But here, neither his problems are really taken seriously, nor his supposed redemption. All he – and the film – left me with is a supreme sense of annoyance.

Scott (Ryan Philippe) sitting at a full table in the garden with a sad face.

Summarizing: Skip it for sure.

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