Learning Curve (1998) from Tuna and Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Tuna's comments in white:

Learning Curve (1998) was originally called Detention, but was changed to avoid confusion with a far lesser film by the same name. I can review it in two words ... BUY IT! It belongs in the same category as films like Breakfast Club, Band of the Hand, To Sir With Love, Stand and Deliver and The Substitute series, but it is not derivative of any of them. The subject is the relationship between problem High School students and an unconventional teacher, but it was not predictable at any point. As I am strongly recommending this low budget indie, I will not reveal any of the plot. It would be a shame to spoil any of the surprises.

IMDB calls it a drama, but drama/dark comedy would be more accurate. Part of what made this film for me was the fact that there was no exposition that relied entirely on obvious dialogue, and every detail was not spelled out and spoon fed to the viewer. The film could have easily become a little boring in the second act, but the main plot was intercut with a sub-plot, keeping me glued to the screen. All characters had a clear arc, not only in the film, but also in each scene they appeared in. There were also some very clever lines, including my personal favorite. The main character has just been accosted by a very uptight female administrator, and says, "When she farts, I bet only dogs can hear it."

IMDB voters score this a respectable 6.5 of 10, but the mean is  8.3, the median 9.0. This is another case of IMDB applying their secret sauce to the score. One critic called it the best indie of the decade. After receiving a warm reception for his first film, Positive ID, writer/director Andy Anderson was in demand as a screenwriter. That provided a regular paycheck, but none of his scripts was ever greenlighted, so, after ten years, he decided to make his own movies again. A full time teacher himself, he knows the public school system intimately, and many of the more implausible plot elements in act one actually happened in the Texas school system.  Even if none of the films listed above appeal to you, and you do not usually like Independent film, you may very well enjoy this one as much as I did.

Scoop's comments in yellow: 

There was a time, as late as the early 70s, when personal advocacy films were an important sub-genre in Hollywood. There were films that pushed (or pandered to) a specific political or sociological point of view, to the point where the position advocated by the film was far more important than the characterization or plot or artfulness of the film itself. After coming out of these films, people would grab dinner or coffee and discuss or argue the issues being treated by the film, pro or con, as opposed to discussing the movie itself.

These examples come to mind: Joe, Billy Jack, The Harrad Experiment, The Green Berets, Z, Up the Down Staircase.

I can't actually name a great movie or even a very good movie with a provocative advocacy position, but some of the movies listed above were popular, and all of them were widely discussed at the time. Billy Jack was a cultural phenomenon. That type of film was generally cast out of Hollywood when the era of the blockbuster arrived in the mid 70s. People did not come out of Jaws discussing the general issue of water safety. Star Wars is not supposed to provoke thoughtful discussions about fascism or religion. People came out of the blockbuster movies talking about the movies - the music, the visuals, the incidents, the characters. When the great cultural revolution ended with Nixon's resignation, and our long national nightmares were over, movies went back to being thrill rides and poems instead of political arguments and essays.

You see, here's the deal with advocacy movies. You measure them by how strongly people react. A really powerful advocacy film stirs up powerful feelings of hatred as well as admiration. It didn't take the Hollywood studios long to determine that being greatly hated was not the optimal route to people's pocketbooks, so Hollywood went back to being The (Politically Correct) Dream Factory, except for an occasional aberration like Oliver Stone. In the 60s and 70s, people could make a lot of money by advocating strong positions, but today's stomachs seem to require blander food.


Three women, as students, provide female nudity, Brandie Little, 3 Bs, Rebecca Sanabria, breasts and bush, and Susanne Gibbs, 3 Bs.

Three male students provide frontal nudity: Meason Wiley, Jonathan Brent, Forest Denbow

When Hollywood abandoned advocacy, independent filmmakers were starting to come into their own, so they made, and continue to this day to make, advocacy films for their personal causes. Learning Curve is the kind of "attitude" film that inspires deep regard and deep animosity, much like The Green Berets, or Billy Jack. There are a lot of people who feel that this film says some things that should be said, and there are people who find it detestable and fascist. It is the kind of film that starts passionate arguments. I think that must mean it is pretty good, because people don't get passionate about mediocre things. Not many people love or hate the bland, mediocre George H.W Bush, but his predecessor and successor inspire powerful love and hate from supporters and detractors. I think that tells you that Reagan and Clinton were both great men, in their own ways. Perhaps only very great men are loved and hated so strongly, and perhaps some of that applies to films as well. If so, this film is loved and hated strongly.

You can see from Tuna's review above, he felt it was one of the best movies he has seen lately. Contrast that to this review, which takes hundreds and hundreds of words to argue that, "I hated (it) vehemently, not just because it is moronic, melodramatic, unrealistic, and unfunny, but because it is evil."

Actually the guy who wrote that review doesn't know what he's talking about on the "unrealistic" assertion. For example, he wrote:

Everything that happens to these characters defies logic, which would be fine, but Andy Anderson is presenting these situations as if schools really operate this way. For instance, why would a kid as nice and smart as Joey be in a detention class with a group of hooligans? Joey explains that people are always beating up on him, so the administrators call him a troublemaker and throw him in detention. Ironic again, but not in a remotely plausible fashion.

Well guess what, dude? Not only is it plausible, but it is routine business as usual! This movie takes place in Texas, and that is EXACTLY how it works here in Texas with our silly "zero tolerance" rules. I know this from experience. We anguished over our own "Joey". My daughter was the target of a bully, and did everything she could to avoid her, including reporting her to the school authorities. When the bully finally hit her, she fought back, and was sentenced to a special week's detention, despite the facts that (1) there were forty witnesses who vouched for her blamelessness, and (2) she had filed written complaints about the instigator. The school administrators, in their wisdom, determined that there were two students fighting, and that there was a zero tolerance policy against fighting, therefore two students got detention. We told them that we knew the confrontation was coming, we told our daughter what to do, she did everything that we and the school told her to do, and the school district not only failed to protect her, but punished her! That's just about exactly what happened to Joey in the film.

(If you are wondering, we took her out of that school and transferred her to another school in the same district - but have had to drive her there each day for many years. She never had another problem of any consequence.)

The guy who wrote that scathing review then said:

Weatherford High School desperately needs somebody to instruct a detention class (is detention ever really a CLASS?).

The answer is "most certainly". For her fighting episode, my daughter was assigned to a special area of the district for a week, and there the students were not allowed to mingle with the regular student body, getting all their instruction from special "detention teachers".

Bottom line: the filmmaker knows EXACTLY what he's talking about, and you can ignore the factual basis for the other guy's criticism, but the passion of the critic's advocacy is the very thing which tells me this must be a pretty darned good film. It gets under people's skin, and gets people passionately involved on both sides of the argument. That's what advocacy films should do.


Irrespective of its POV, is it actually a good movie?

It's OK.

It has problems. The production values and performing are ordinary at best. The dialogue is trite and the jokes are sophomoric. Sometimes it gets lost switching between realism and surrealism in its treatment of the situations, and it also switches back and forth between serious and darkly comic approaches, keeping one foot in and one foot out of the reality room.

DVD info from Amazon

The DVD is presented in a letterboxed widescreen format, and includes documentary, deleted scenes, and a trailer.

It also has rewards. It has a great opening credits sequence. For a movie with a serious POV, it is remarkably entertaining. It offers elements of a thriller and a comedy as well as a social advocacy film. The fact that it kept some interesting plot elements hidden from view added to the reward of sticking it out to the end.

Overall it is well worth the watch for one reason: the originality of the concept. I watch 20 movies a week, so they all blend together after a while, and they all seem like copies of something else, but this film is fiendishly different. There's is nothing like it, and I don't think I will soon forget it.

In addition, it is so blatantly Politically Incorrect that it will appeal strongly to those of you with an anti-authoritarian streak.

The Critics Vote

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The People Vote ...

The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, Scoop says, "this is a C+. Strange film: part black comedy, part social satire, and even a little bit of film noir. Not a blockbuster kind of mass-audience film, but a pretty strong little cult film." Tuna graded it a B. See above.

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