Lost Weekend IX: Bad Genius
I have zero visual memory of taking the SATs. It has been very many years since I’ve had to sharpen my #2s to fill in a scantron under the watchful, if disinterested, eye of a proctor. I do, however, have a distinct visceral memory; the base of my windpipe starts closing up, my palms get all clammy, and my right leg starts bouncing with nervous energy. The SAT was sold to us youngsters as the crux on which our entire future wobbled, teetering between the Ivy League institute of your (or your parents’) dreams and Jim Bob’s House of Local Learning.
It is profoundly unreasonable that one afternoon of sweating into a piece of scrap paper should make or break your entire adulthood. What if your family can’t afford to pay for the fancy-pants prep courses? What if you don’t have time to study because of the 27 extra-curriculars you have to participate in to distract from your middling GPA? What if you’re just stupid? These are all disadvantages that are out of a 17 year-old’s control and are not at all factored into the final numerical score. What is the broke/overextended/under-brained student to do in the face of this cold, unfair system? Well, in Bad Genius, three friends in a prestigious prep school in Thailand decided to think outside of the box …er, bubble.
Bad Genius may be a movie about a bunch of teens trying to get one over on a bunch of square grownups, but director Nattawut Poonpiriya (Countdown, 2012) achieves some serious, high adrenaline, heist vibes. This movie is more Ocean’s 11 than Ferris Beuller’s Day Off. This cheating ring starts off pretty small potatoes, with a passed eraser in an English class, but quickly progresses into taking on a big, international, closely monitored standardized test – the STIC. There is international travel, forgery, foot chases, and a lot of money on the line – Danny Ocean would be chuffed. The objective? Get the answers to the STIC to a stable of high paying clients without getting caught and potentially getting their scores, and the scores of every STIC taker in Thailand nullified.
No heist caper would be complete without a scrappy team of criminals who just may have what it takes to pull it off. We have Lynn (Chutimon Chuengcharoensukying), the mastermind; Grace (Elsaya Hosuwan), the inspiration and heart; Pat (Teeradon Supapunpinyo), the networker; and Bank (Chanon Santinatornkul), the reluctant specialist that has nothing to lose and everything to gain. The film takes time to build the team’s relationships and gives each member an extremely relatable, if excruciatingly high school, reason for resorting to the cheat-life. We were all taught as children that if we work hard and do our best, we can climb the ladder of success. As adolescents, we begin to notice that some ladders, for one reason or another, have fewer rungs than others. So why not take short cuts where we can?
The thrill of Bad Genius is watching our band of school-age swindlers pull off one scheme after the other, but the growth of the film happens in the relationship of Lynn and her father (Thaneth Warakulnukroh). Lynn got a full ride to this exclusive academy based on an impeccable GPA and box full of academic trophies. The principal assured her that her merits meant more to the institution than money, but when she found out that they were charging her single dad with a teacher’s salary a hefty school maintenance fee, or ‘tea money,’ she felt justified in making a few extra baht with her “tutoring” business. The level of disappointment Warakulnukroh portrays when he finds out what his daughter values above her integrity is heartbreaking. Warakulnukroh’s performance as Lynn’s father lends some sweetness and subtlety to what is an otherwise very heightened film.
Bad Genius taps into the big test trauma we all have locked in our psyche since our school days. I still have nightmares about walking into a classroom and being handed a midterm that I did not study for, nor attend any classes for, and why don’t I have pants on? It’s clear that director Nattawut Poonpiriya is a lover of genre film and his ability to use common tropes that pop up in heist films like The Italian Job, Reservoir Dogs, and Snatch to make a bunch preppies taking a math test feel like they’re supposed to blow the bloody doors off is exhilarating.
Since Bad Genius’s May 2017 release, it has become the highest grossing Thai Film of 2017, making $3 million in Thailand, and $30 million in China. I had the privilege of watching Bad Genius on the big screen as part of the Lost Weekend IX Film Festival at the Alamo Drafthouse in Winchester, VA. Lost Weekend is a semiannual film festival programmed and hosted by Creative Manager Andy Gyurisin that brings indie, advanced, foreign and artful films to rural Virginia. At Lost Weekend IX we watched 25 films in four days and it was intense. If you would like to watch Bad Genius, you can check it out on itunes. If you want to be jealous of all of the cool movies I got to watch at Lost Weekend IX click this link, and if you want to make it to Lost Weekend X follow Andy @cinemabandwagon.