Larks in the school dorm

2008-11-17 00:00

LACROSSE sticks in the hall ... it must be The Upper Fifth at St Mallory’s. You know, the English school story, beloved of generations of young readers from the Twenties (when Angela Brazil was the doyenne of the genre), through the Fifties and Sixties, (when Enid Blyton ruled the classroom), to the Nineties, when J.K. Rowling created perhaps the best-known school series ever written. I read them all.

This time, it’s Hollywood that has taken on the genre, added a twist of fish out of water and a pinch of teen romance and created … Wild Child.

It starts far from the world of English schools, in Malibu, where Poppy Moore (Emma Roberts) is quickly sketched as a brat with too many clothes. She doesn’t like her new stepmom, and so her dad ships her off to an English school, Abbey Mount, supposedly founded in 17-something, but deeply mediocre and apparently proud of it.

On her arrival, she immediately butts heads with the queen of the school (sorry, headgirl), Harriet, and discovers that there are rules, and dorms, and other girls who know nothing about her.

Of course, she wants to go home immediately, and one of her dorm-mates tells her the only way to achieve that is to get expelled. So she sets about making a nuisance of herself so they’ll throw her out. Except the headmistress (Natasha Richardson) isn’t that easy to fool.

But there’s part of the plan that is guaranteed to work — snog the head’s son (Alex Pettyfer), who hangs around the place and on whom the headgirl has a huge crush.

Things progress (largely by montage) until the school social, when she charms the son. Cue another montage as they go on a dreamy date in a fishing village and he makes her a chip butty, which is pretty far from the food of Malibu Barbie.

The only lessons at the school appear to be French, taught by a little man in tight trousers, and lacrosse, taught by a loud woman in a tracksuit — until Poppy takes over coaching the team and they start to win. Other than the matron (played by that actress from Bridget Jones’s Diary with the tiny head and the baby-girl voice) who turns off the lights and confiscates the girls’ cellphones, there are no other staff, and no sense of the school life.

Of course it all works out in the end. Poppy learns lessons about friendship and belonging, and the snotty headgirl gets her comeuppance.

The audience was full of teenage girls, who might have enjoyed it (hard to say), but it seemed long to me, and formulaic. The trailer for the next Mr Bones film got big laughs from the crowd, so maybe they should wait to see that instead, because Leon Schuster doesn’t try to hide the fact that he’s trading in grotesque stereotypes.

**

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