Coming of age films are often plagued by adult screenwriters taking the adolescence experience way too seriously, rather than embracing the benign moments that contribute to the teenage years. Kyle Rideout's delightfully charming Adventures in Public School dives headfirst into the feel-good aspects of growing up without a hint of sarcasm or cynicism.
Daniel Doheny delivers a masterful feature debut performance as Liam, a gifted homeschooled kid striving to be the second greatest astrophysicist (graciously accepting that he will never dethrone Stephen Hawking) under the watchful eye of his helicopter mother, played by the always incredible Judy Greer.
Liam visits a public school to complete his high school equivalency exam and has a small taste of what life is like among people his own age. Fearful he's missing out, he botches his exam as an "act of rebellion" and is allowed to fill in at the overcrowded public school in place of a student out on sick leave.
As to be expected, most of the film is centered around the fish-out-of-water tale of Liam adjusting to kids his own age.
Between encounters with the Australian-accented bully (Austin Herr), the school's four-year reigning Halloween costume contest champion (Alex Barima) guiding him through high-school, and the one-legged girl of his dreams, Liam successfully, albeit awkwardly, manages to make it through the jungle of public education.
The characters are pleasant and relatable, the teens actually talk like teens and the adults are realized rather than throwaway stock ideas of parents, another typical problem for most coming-of-age stories.
Shining brighter than all else, however, is the impeccably written relationship between Liam and his mother. Rideout and co-writer Josh Epstein carefully walk the line between an overbearing and downright unhealthy relationship between a single mother and her son.
Ultimately, Adventures in Public School is a charming indie comedy that will fit right in the wheelhouse of fans of Juno, Election and Charlie Bartlett. This lighthearted and almost whimsical look at the modern teenage experience will likely fly under the radar for mass audiences but will be adored by those fortunate enough to track it down.