I’ve got somewhat mixed feelings about Pat Mills’ Guidance. It’s very funny, enjoyable and inspiring in an oddball sort of way, but it feels like two separate movies which don’t really work together.
Meet David Gold, former TV child star. Twenty years after being on the air, he can’t even hold down jobs recording feel-good affirmation tapes because all he’s really good at is drinking, smoking, alienating his family, compulsively watching tapes of his glory days, and denying his gayness.
Out of desperation he answers an ad for a high school counselor. With no experience, no references and only minimal prep work (ie: watching a few online videos), he manages to bullshit his way through the interview under a fake name and land the job!
Yes, the school was pretty desperate too, which sortakinda justified the whole setup. My disbelief needed a lot of suspension, but it looked like a silly comedy so I rolled with it. And kept on rolling as he breezily fixed all the kids’ problems like an alcoholic fairy godmother: teaching the shy girl how to flirt with a dumb jock; getting a problem student transferred to a school that would challenge him better… with lots of shots. Sometimes weed or cigarettes. But mostly shots.
What gave this part depth was that David isn’t some happy twinkly carefree blithe spirit. Having a job, responsibilities and the promise of income doesn’t make any of his issues go away. He’s still alone, still drinking alone even at work, still struggling with fears and denial and low self-esteem. As much as we want to laugh or cringe at his antics (and we do!) we want to give him a big ol’ hug and tell him everything will be all right. The job is helping him, little by little: his bonding with Jabrielle, one of the school’s “bad girls” and checking up on her abusive home life shows that he’s started to think about people who aren’t him.
I was still all ready for the story to evolve this way: David would hit rock bottom, possibly keep his job, possibly be let go, there’d be wacky hijinks, the students would rally around him, he’d find his self-esteem, quit drinking, reconcile with his family, and maybe find out his landlady’s not such a mean bitch after all. Happy ending!
But then, reality ensues. The nosy and very gay gym teacher find out David’s real identity after a little snooping, he’s found behind his desk in a drunken stupor, and everything comes crashing down: the principal calls the police, and David runs. He meets up with Jabrielle who’d run away from home, they go rob a few tanning salons (it makes sense in context) but they can’t keep it up for long. David sends Jabrielle to her aunt in Winnipeg, and he surrenders to the police. And finally, finally, David is at peace.
So… that was a bit shocking, to be honest. I think this movie was meant to show (among other things) a deconstruction of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl/Boy trope, but I feel it went a little too far for a comedy. Because now I’ve got too many questions: what will happen to all the kids he’s helped? Will Ghost be forced back to his old school when authorities find out his grades were forged? Will Jabrielle be able to stay with her aunt, make a new life away from her abusive parents? Will she be called to testify against David?
Still, there’s a lot I love about the movie. Besides being hella funny, it’s a loving ode to freaks, weirdos and repressed loners everywhere, who tend to be way more interesting than so-called “normal” people. Flaws and quirks are okay, and it’s best to be honest about them. And bland affirmations are worse than useless. Sometimes life really sucks, and it won’t get better until you face it.