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One Movie Punch

Apr 28, 2018

Today’s movie is “Candy Jar” (2018), the Netflix Original comedy written by Chad Klitzman and directed by Ben Shelton. The film follows Bennett Russell (Jacob Latimore) and Lona Skinner (Sami Gayle), two prep school rival debaters who team up to compete in the state debate championship, while dealing with high expectations from themselves and their parents.

Spoilers ahead.

We’re in a world now that is learning to deal with multiple forms of privilege, which is a hard conversation to have with society. I wince every time I see a television show or film try to tackle this topic in a meaningful way, because I’m so worried that the writers don’t recognize their own privilege. So, I was skeptical walking into this film, about prep school debaters worried if they’ll get into their first choice schools.

Klitzman’s script does a pretty good job framing the conversation, using Bennett’s mother, Julia (Uzo Aduba), to demonstrate parental expectations, and Lona’s mother, Amy (Christina Hendricks), trying to get her to slow down and enjoy her life. Helen Hunt’s character, Kathy, serves both students as guidance counselor, confidant, and moral compass, although her story arc takes an unexpected turn. Having the main debate topic revolve around a discussion of the value of a college degree adds an extra dimension. Shelton’s direction is solid, with the text effects during the debate montages adding to the story, along with some really well-timed one-liners.

But honestly, the film muddles the message towards the end, with the final debate being part performance piece, part soul-bearing hot mess. And sure, the working class kids end up winning the debate tournament, but Bennett and Lona are still bound towards their second-choice Ivy League schools. So, ultimately their trials and tribulations feel less like character growth and more like teenage melodrama. Not to mention, “Candy Jar”, as a title, has very little to do with either the message, or the film, background props aside.

“Candy Jar” (2018) may have trouble towards the end, but the overall film is a fun watch. The cast is above average and the film is really well composed, even if the story takes a few odd turns. Fans of coming of age or feel-good comedies will definitely enjoy this film, but be ready for a rough landing.

Rotten Tomatoes: NR

Metacritic: NR

One Movie Punch: 7.2/10 

“Candy Jar” (2018) is rated TV-14 and is currently streaming on Netflix.