By Pat Mullen
VANCOUVER – Three features represent Vancouver at Canada’s Top Ten, but Kyle Rideout’s Adventures in Public School is at the top of the class for films at the fest this year.
Adventures in Public School tells the offbeat story of Liam (Daniel Doheny), who enters public school for the first time after 16 years of being home schooled by his mother Claire (Judy Greer). Liam’s journey into the wild offers a lesson for them both that is smart, upbeat, and hilarious.
“I was not homeschooled,” laughs Rideout when asked if the film relates to his experience. “I actually was quite the opposite and was very ‘public schooled.’” Rideout adds that he attended eight or nine schools for various reasons, but the last change was especially ironic.
“In my final year of high school,” says Rideout, “I changed schools because my drama teacher told me I was just a big fish in little water. I was kind of devastated and thought, ‘Maybe she’s right.’ I switched schools to see if I could succeed in theatre and drama. I feel like I did, so I proved that teacher wrong. Maybe it was good that the teacher said that in the end.”
It’s refreshing to see the film on Canada’s Top Ten, since great Canadian comedies are rare outside of The F Word and, sigh, Porky’s. “There are huge challenges in comedy,” explains Rideout. “Comedies don’t sell as well internationally, so to piece together the financing is really difficult.”
Rideout’s film is produced through the Canadian Film Centre, founded by Norman Jewison, which helped the comedy break through.
“We did the CFC Comedy Lab before the Feature Program, which really got the project going,” says Rideout, adding that the opportunity helped bring in casting director Allison Jones. The casting is a highlight of the film, which lands a knockout performance from Greer amidst a diverse ensemble.
Greer steals the film with her spirited turn as the helicopter parent, who reluctantly agrees to let Liam gain the life experience she can’t provide in their garage-turned-classroom. Greer has made a career out of playing small but memorable characters and sidekicks in films like The Descendants and 13 Going on 30, and Claire offers the great leading role that audiences always knew she had in her but have never had a chance to see.
Rideout says that casting the Hollywood star came naturally. “She was busy working on a film and she actually didn’t get a call with us,” Rideout explains, regarding the waiting game after sending Greer’s agent the script. “Judy just texted us later saying ‘Judy = Claire,’ which made it exciting. I think there was a dancing emoji,” he laughs.
The director adds that Greer was a dream to work with on the character. “Every take she was finding new and interesting things.”
It’s a great performance full of life, love, and energy, and one that should bring this Canuck comedy to a wider audience.