Netflixable? Over-achieving teens fight over the “Candy Jar”


She wants to get into Harvard, more than life itself.

He’s hellbent on Yale, come hell or high water.

Hemlock Prep classmates Bennett (Jacob Lattimore of “The Maze Runner” and “Detroit”) and Lona (Sami Gayle of TV’s “Blue Bloods”) long ago decided that academia was a zero sum game. At war since kindergarten, raised by single moms — his is a wealthy state senator, hers is, well, Christina Hendricks of “Mad Men” — want it all, the whole “Candy Jar.”

Netflix continues to step into the niche — teen rom-coms — that the major studios abandoned when they went all-in on comic books, with this tolerable trip down utterly predictable lane — mismatched, but oh-so perfect-for-each-other that we know where this is going long before Homecoming.

Gayle and Lattimore play these speed-debaters, sentenced to be “co-president” of their debate team, as if they’re terrified their supporting cast will scald them, given half the chance.

When their best scenes are with Academy Award winning comic actress Helen Hunt, you can understand their concern. Cathy — she likes the kids to call her by her first name — was Obama’s classmate and is thus sympathetic to their Ivy League dreams.

Finish that application and get a DATE. Find a little balance.

“My greatest skill is arguing with people,” Bennett complains. “Not exactly date material.”

“Forget Yale! “Focus on becoming a better kisser.”

Hemlock Prep is the sort of school where the (mostly) rich kids annoy the principal (Tom Bergeron, a hero to generations of toddlers via “America’s Funniest Home Videos”) into ranting his retire to the South of France fantasy to shut them up.

The debate coach (Paul Tigue) has a thing for quoting movies — badly.

“STOP! Not my tempo!”

As the kids spend the year haggling — at caffeinated speeds — “Resolved, the Cost of a College Education Do Not Outweigh the Benefits — Lona and Bennett find they have a lot more in common than either would admit.

The arcane rules of debate, its place within the Ivy League admission, law school, Wall Street or political success is laid out. The descent of debate into rapid-fire recitations is dissected.

State Senator/Lawyer Julia (Uzo Aduba of Broadway and “Orange is the New Black”) does that politician thing of being fake-tactful, tooting her own horn, Hendricks’ Cool Mom Amy is depressed, doesn’t keep house, drinks and swears in front of her over-achieving kid.

Yeah, the single moms hate goes WAY back.

The two best debaters in the county? They can’t stop a lifetime of sniping overnight. Or can they?

“You disrespect the judges!”

“You have bad debate habits!”

“You have bad breath!”

“YOU have a stupid face!”

The arguments, kid and adult, are built around debate “rules.” Those arguing argue their opponents into corners, where they pin them. Checkmates are acknowledged through gritted teeth. Unlike in the real America, people who disagree keep it civil.

Worldwise, onetime over-achiever but settled-for-this-life Cathy, who placates her young charges with treats from her “Candy Jar,” is there to remind one and all that life isn’t predictable, that stressing over the head-start you assume a prestigious college admission earns you, is no guarantee of success, a meaningful life, or happiness.

I like the film’s messages and aspirations, the recognition that kids (and their helicopter moms) need to learn that “Sometimes, you lose.” For a Netflix film aimed at this age group, it’s quaintly chaste.

But in execution, “Candy Jar” rarely rises to the level of “time killer.” The leads are adequate, but don’t really set off sparks. The jokes are tepid, the few that work die of loneliness.

Without those elements, a rom-com’s blandly predictable “the price focused kids pay in over-achieving” message is over-exposed, too pale and delicate to stand the harsh light of the day.


MPAA Rating: TV-14, profanity, alcohol

Cast: Jacob KLaittmore, Sami Gayle, Helen Hunt, Christina Hendricks, Tom Bergeron, Uzo Aduba

Credits:Directed by Ben Shelton, script by Chad Klitzman. A Netflix release.

Running time: 1:32

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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