David Gold, the hero of writer-director-star Pat Mills’s deranged, often very funny Guidance, is a delusional, emotionally underdeveloped narcissist — just the type, the film posits, to relate to a school full of teenagers.
Like Richard Linklater’s School of Rock, Guidance follows a struggling creative type as he dons a corduroy jacket and a borrowed identity to gain temporary employment at a school. David, a former child actor known for Wacky Street (a stand-in for Mills’s real-life experience on You Can’t Do That on Television), isn’t a slacker so much as a raging substance abuser.
While his acting skills help him snag a position as a guidance counselor, his weak impulse control and erratic decision-making quickly turn him into something more akin to a fun, derelict uncle. Mills’s screenplay sharply exploits school administrations’ inability to meet teenagers’ emotional demands, making David’s well-intentioned but shortsighted solutions for problems like boredom and social awkwardness (“You’re gonna like this,” he grins conspiratorially at one student as he pours out two shots of liquor) seem oddly reasonable — at least for a few days.
Mills’s excellent performance finds the pathos in David’s hopelessly unconvincing one — he turns nervous and twitchy whenever he’s in the teachers’ lounge, and absurdly tries to pass off a framed magazine cutout as his ex-wife. It’s only when David is forced to reckon with unpleasant realities that the film’s structural supports weaken. Focusing on his relationship with one student, Jabrielle (Zahra Bentham), the crime-spree-driven final third feels more like a sordid movie of the week than the sprightly comedy that preceded it.
Written and directed by Pat Mills
Opens August 21, Village East Cinema