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The Must-See Movie of 2017 is the Playful High School Heist BAD GENIUS (Fantasia Review)

Bad Genius is an absolute unbridled joy to watch. A nail-biter with its tongue in its cheek, watching it brought on the same fist-pumping elation of seeing Shaun of the Dead for the first time and discovering an impeccable new filmmaking voice with technical skill and fresh creativity. Writer/director Nattawut Poonpiriya has applied the language of heist cinema to high school kids cheating on tests to create a thrilling winner.

The movie opens with math prodigy Lynn (Chutimon Chuengcharoensukying) earning her way into an exclusive, expensive high school with brains and bold moves that leave her father (Thaneth Warakulnukroh) embarrassed but proud (and in far better financial shape). Grace (Eisaya Hosuwan) is the bubbly first friend Lynn makes at her new school, and they decide to use each other’s skills–academics and popularity–to mutual benefit. When Grace gets her boyfriend Pat (Teeradon Supapunpinyo) and his money involved, Lynn launches a small cheating business with an ingenious method for letting her paying classmates copy her answers. Hopefully Lynn’s competition for top of the class, Bank (Chanon Santinatornkul), doesn’t ruin it for everyone.

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Bad Genius is a showcase of everything great cinema is capable of. It’s a complex look at young hopes and social status wrapped around a rocket ship of a high concept. Poonpiriya and company have a blast with the cheating scheme, using whip pans and hero shots to elevate the intensity of writing answers down on an eraser and passing it one desk down inside your Mary Janes. Lynn invents a musical code to share answers in plain sight, and it’s eventually treated with the operatic, dream-like style it deserves. The film expertly plays these moments for both comedy and tension, respecting the natural dichotomy of the stakes of cheating on a math test. Either it determines the rest of your life, or it’s silly youthful indiscretion. Or both at the same time.

The plot that results is like Ocean’s Eleven if Ocean’s Eleven had any real risks. If you were ever actually worried that smooth George Clooney and Friends wouldn’t pull it off in the end. Lynn is excellent at math, but she’s not a superhero, and when she sets a scheme in motion to get her friends scholarships and entry to schools outside of Thailand by scamming an international version of the SATs, a dozen obstacles emerge. Then a dozen more. And a dozen more. And a dozen more for good measure.

As soon as you think they’re in as deep as they can go, another brick gets added to the pile.

Bad Genius

Each of them digs your nails further into the armrest and forces you to hold your breath, but Bad Genius isn’t satisfied with loose ends or convoluted outs. It puts its clever, imperfect characters into genuine danger and offers realistic, applause-worthy escape routes. The script and editing are airtight and incendiary, but the movie–despite making audiences break out in a sweat–never feels too heavy. The caper offers the pressure and fun; the characters offer the heart and soul.

All of them are written as Breakfast Club tropes who, like the library-bound kids of the John Hughes classic, deepen and round out as the story and the cheating intensify. Relationships are challenged and reshaped, and the futures for these young minds come into clear focus. Chuengcharoensukying is an outstanding talent whose Lynn is the explosive engine of this film, a young woman with intelligence, charisma, and a lot of doors still closed to her.

Bad Genius Thai

The yin to her yang his Bank, the other scholarship student in her class who’s trying his hardest to succeed so his working class mother won’t have to scrub her hands raw when the washing machine at their cleaning business breaks for the third time in a week. He begins earnest and uptight, yet street smart, which makes his journey into darker territory as compelling as Lynn’s. The rest of the surrounding young cast is excellent, dropping punch lines like seasoned pros and making the stakes of the escapade sing.

It has the humanity and complexity of Catch Me If You Can as well as style and construction that would make Edgar Wright salivate. Every element is sheer perfection. The script, the vision, the tone, and the actors who wrap it in a neat, adrenaline-soaked bow. All of it works. None of it is wasted. Bad Genius is literally flawless.

5 out of 5 piano-coded burritos


Images: GDH 559

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