Featuring solid performances and an always-enjoyable premise, Crazy Awesome Teachers falters in its third act.
I must admit. I haven’t seen many Indonesian films. But I have seen dozens of films about teachers. The latest Netflix film, director Sammaria Simanjuntak’s Crazy Awesome Teachers, highlights a young man who doesn’t want to be a teacher and then ends up being a teacher. A premise far from new, the anti-teaching teacher has been played nearly every way, but with a charming performance at the center, the result can still be a watchable, and sometimes even enjoyable, experience. In this case, Gading Marten’s performance can only save this thin script up to a point, before the third act unravels his work.
Following Taat Pribadi, a man intent on leaving home and his teaching father behind, the film sees Taat go back to his village, join his old school as a history professor, and ingratiate himself with the students. He becomes friends with other teachers, learns about his father’s passion, and starts a romantic fling with the head administrator. Soon enough, trouble and hijinks ensue, with a couple of thieves coming and stealing the teacher’s salaries as well as his father’s retirement money. Combining with other teachers like Gagah (Ibnu Jamil) and Rahayu (Faradina Mufti), the educators steal back the money from the thieves and take it back to their small school.
Here’s where the story gets a bit dicey, unfortunately, as the final 40 minutes of the film become a caricature of a heist movie. It’s not funny enough to be a comedy, and not thrilling enough to be an action drama. The decisions by both the villains and the heroes transform into absurdist comedy, regardless of the committed performances and the beautiful visuals. The camerawork, especially during a shot with money falling from a building, deserves recognition for being much better than passable.
Crazy Awesome Teachers, or Guru-Guru Gokil, remains a sweet film. It has little to say about Indonesia’s education system, about the profession of teaching, or about living in a small village in a (more) remote part of the world. Simanjuntak chooses safer decisions, which have the potential to reach a larger, English-language speaking audience, though not adding much to the genre or the scope of streaming as a whole. Still, if you’re looking for a fine film that traverses similar territory as you’ve seen in the past, turn on Crazy Awesome Teachers, and let the kids of Indonesia make you smile.
Based in Brooklyn, NY, Michael is a regular critic for Ready Steady Cut and also writes for Cinema Sentries, The Film Experience and Film Inquiry.