The Emperor’s Club

Audience/Teacher Conference
Film review by: Witney Seibold


            With their prim haircuts, passion for learning, and gold-and-burgundy scarves, the students in Michael Hoffman’s film “The Emperor’s Club” look less like real students, and more than a little bit like older members of House Gryffindor. And while this film is supposed to be in the real world, it’s as light and as fanciful as anything in Harry Potter. Too bad it’s not as fun or engaging.
            “The Emperor’s Club” is the story of Professor William Hundert (Kevin Kline), who teaches Greek and Roman classics at the same prim boarding school full of white students that we have seen in many Oscar-caliber films in the past. His students (Jessie Eisenberg, Rob Morrow, Rishi Mehta, et al) are all incredibly smart, and actually pay attention and learn. His conflict arrives in the form of Sedgewick Bell (Emile Hirsch), a student who does not pay attention, reads girlie magazines and behaves, well, like a frustratingly typical teenager. Hundert sees potential, and pushes past the boy’s indifferent senator father to shape Sedgewick into a candidate for the school’s annual Mr. Julius Caesar contest. There are twists I will not reveal, and a follow-up 25 years later where the boys are all headstrong-and-cocksure rich men, and where things may or may not have changed from school days. Also, Embeth Davidtz is shoehorned in as a love interest.
            A teacher of my own once pointed out that mainstream film audiences like to be surprised in the same way for every film. This film squarely fits that idea. It has surprises, but we’ve seen them before. They’re light and satisfying, but not terribly moving. The film is like a cookie. It tastes good, and you’re satisfied for a moment, but it’s not nourishing. It’s a good story of a man’s greatest failure in the light of his greatest success, only there’s no bite. There are no tears or hatred. It’s supposed to be a Hollywood Uplifting Film, but it could stand some darkness.
            Michael Hoffman has made some good films (The hysterical “Soap Dish,” the quite good “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”), and will probably make more. “The Emperor’s Club” seems like a throw-off.

Published in: on May 4, 2009 at 9:36 pm  Leave a Comment  

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