Title: General Education
Director: Tom Morris (‘Ships Wrecked Cove’)
Starring: Chris Sheffield (‘Transformers: Dark of the Moon’), Maiara Walsh (TV’s ‘Mean Girls 2,’ ‘Switched at Birth’), Larry Miller, Janeane Garofalo and Skylan Brooks (‘Our Family Wedding’)
It often takes an unexpected, radical event in a person’s life to truly change the path they embark on and alter the decisions they make. That’s certainly true with Levi Collins, a high school tennis superstar whose life is mapped out for him by his parents until a failing grade hinders his chance at graduating from high school. While Levi’s initial reaction is to lie to his parents about it and continue down the path they chose for him, he comes to realize that he must go after his own goals in order to be truly happy.
‘General Education’ follows Levi (played by Chris Sheffield) as he’s set to graduate and receive an athletic scholarship to the same local university his father, Rich (portrayed by Larry Miller), attended. With Rich and Levi’s mother, Gale (played by Janeane Garofalo), setting high expectations for their second son and continue the family’s legacy of playing tennis, Levi must sacrifice his own happiness and his grades to succeed in the family sport. However, Levi finds out he failed science and must attend summer school in order to get his diploma.
So Levi elicits the help of his younger sister, Emily (portrayed by McKaley Miller), his neighbor and side-kick, Charles (played by Skylan Brooks) and his friend Shady Nick (portrayed by Seth Cassell) to cover for him with his parents and complete his coursework. While in summer school, Levi becomes attracted to one of his classmates, Katie (played by Maiara Walsh), while he tries to juggle as the tournaments his father pressures him to play. But he’s determined to not only pass his class so that he can graduate, but also find what truly makes him happy.
Filmmaker Tom Morris, who made his feature film directorial and writing debut with ‘General Education,’ created a genuine coming-of-age story with Levi’s determination to please his family while at the same time exploring all career choices and schools that would best fit him. While Levi does excel at tennis, he echoes many teens’ determination to break free from their parents’ influence to do what he feels the most comfortable with. Though Levi lied to his parents about failing his science class just so he wouldn’t get in trouble, the deception strained their relationship and made him truly reconsider what he truly wanted to do with his life. Playing tennis bonded him with his father and made Rich happy, but failing science made Levi realize he didn’t enjoy the sport enough to sacrifice making his own decisions about college and his career.
While Morris incorporated an important life lesson teens and young adults must consider when picking a college and a career into ‘General Education,’ the director also added several comedic relationships and elements as well. One of the most surprising and genuinely amusing friendships in the comedy is the friendship between Levi and his 13-year-old neighbor, Charles. Levi thinks of himself as Charles’ protector, while Charles inadvertently appointed himself to be Levi’s side-kick. Charles is happy to do whatever Levi asks of hims, in order to please him, and uses humor and his quirky personality to get whatever he needs and wants.
Besides having a funny, light-hearted relationship with Brooks on screen, Sheffield also had a natural chemistry with Walsh throughout the course of ‘General Education.’ After Levi met Katie in summer school, Sheffield transformed his character into truly caring what someone else thought of him as a total person, and not just how well he performed in sports or school. Katie saw the good in Levi, despite his repeated attempts to showcase how masculine and tough he was, and came to truly accept him for who he was. Katie proved to Levi that he doesn’t have to excel in just one area for her to like him; he just had to be himself and prove what a good person he is, and that he can live up to his true potential when he truly tries his hardest.
For Morris’ first feature film writing and directorial effort, ‘General Education’ is a genuine and comedic look into the coming-of-age journey of a teen trying to figure out what he truly wants to do with the rest of his life. Levi wants to please his parents, and feels that playing tennis is the way to do it, but after going through life-changing experiences in summer school, he realizes he must make his own decisions to make himself truly happy. His amusing relationship with Charles and enduring romantic interest in Katie finally gives Levi the courage to stand up for himself and follow his dreams.
Written by: Karen Benardello