Anticipation: 2/5 I feel more compelled to see FIST FIGHT because it’s a movie about teachers rather than because I have a genuine interest in the movie itself. I’m always curious to see how comedies portray the profession versus the dramas and biopics. The trailer did look rather humorous, if a bit dumb, so I’m interested in how the whole plot plays out.
Final Verdict: 4/5 This movie pleasantly surprised me. I was expecting a dumb comedy with jokes that fall flat or are too much in the zeitgeist, but what I received was a heartfelt and poignant story about teachers which happened to be extremely funny.
Charlie Day plays Andy Campbell, a meek English teacher, while Ice Cube plays Mr. Strickland, a hot-headed History teacher. We first meet our main characters in the teacher’s lounge on the last days of school, and already they start off on the wrong foot regarding a newfangled coffee maker. We quickly learn that on the last day extreme senior pranks are the norm. The students are out of control, but the teachers and administration seem to be powerless to stop the antics. The teachers might lack a little motivation in this department because each and every one has to re-interview for their job, and many teachers are being fired to save resources. A student prank involving Mr. Strickland goes awry and Mr. Campbell is caught in the middle. The conflict between them truly begins when Mr. Campbell tells the truth to save his own hide, causing Mr. Strickland to lose his job. This leads the ill-tempered History teacher to challenge the timid English teacher to the titular fist fight.
FIST FIGHT has a great balance physical, observational, and deadpan comedy with a bit of absurdist comedy thrown in for good measure. This blend of styles balances out and enhances the plot rather than halts it for improv hour for every joke and bit. The student pranks provide a bulk of the physical comedy. At one point they’ve let a horse loose in the school and it wreaks havoc. It drags Mr. Campbell through the halls as paint bombs explode, making it look like he tried to rob a bank and didn’t know they loaded the bag with dye packs. Campbell and his fellow faculty provide the observational humor, commenting on the conditions of public schools today with a level of truth that feels like it was written by a current classroom teacher. The script pulls no punches when the teachers air their grievances with the way the school is run and how teachers in general are treated. Jillian Bell as guidance counselor Holly provides the deadpan humor with her straight-laced statements no school professional should ever say to her fellow teachers or students she’s in charge of helping. And it’s all topped off with moments absurd comedy. Not only does Mr. Strickland try to deal with a prankster by wielding a fire axe at him, but we learn about his “past” through a series of short cutaways recounting actions that make him a man not to mess with.
The movie also presents a different reality where teachers have been pitted against each other, students have taken control over the school, and administrators care more about their own extracurriculars than making their school an engaging and welcoming environment for both students and faculty alike. Despite this exaggerated situations, the movie has a heart and a message. Both Mr. Campbell and Mr. Strickland are easy to relate to. Even though they are opposites, deep down they care about doing a good job for the students. Moreover, the overall theme is strong: if you take away all of the tools necessary for teacher’s to do their jobs, you make the daily challenges they face insurmountable. We must provide teachers with the tools and support they need in order for them to give their best to their students.
There were a few flaws with some of the elements of the movie, but they were minor and didn’t detract from my overall enjoyment of FIST FIGHT. The humor in the movie will not only be enjoyed by teachers, but by anyone who has had to deal with extremely ridiculous circumstances in their life or workplace. If you’ve ever felt like the underdog and unappreciated, this movie might be cathartic for you. Overall, FIST FIGHT is a fun time and I can’t wait to watch again.