Comedy, 103 Minutes, 2010:
[This is the sixteenth selection in my irregular, “My Wife and Kids are Visiting Relatives and I’m Home Watching Movies” film festival.]
Set in South Africa in 1990 (the same year Nelson Mandella was released from prison) the movie chronicles Johnny Milton’s first year at an exclusive boys boarding school. Having gotten into the school on a scholarship he begins the first day already embarrassed by his less-than-wealthy parents fawning over him and ends it with the nickname “Spud” unceremoniously given to him after the rest of guys see him naked in the shower.
The movie is well paced and hits all the right, if predictable, notes. The majority of it deals with Spud worrying over his delayed pubescence and lack of manly experience while trying to stay out of the eye-line of the school’s bullies. The connective thread throughout is the evolution of a relationship between Spud and his eccentric, borderline-alcoholic English teacher played perfectly by John Cleese [IMDB].
The only relative minor complaint to be levied is that the movie introduces several sub-plots which are simply abandoned with no comment. We hear a bit about the racial tensions in South Africa at that time but not enough to satisfy such a meaty subject. A good gag is made about Spud’s family’s lack of wealth but the point is never picked up again. Various other conversations and liaisons are staged but never resolved.
“Spud” is a classic coming of age movie. It throws you no curves and demands no commitment. The South African setting shouldn’t worry anybody as the themes and emotional scaffolding constructed are universal to anybody that’s ever been 14 years-old. The story is warm and human and the performances well-tuned and subtle. It’s an enjoyable, satisfying film well worth tracking down.