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ADVENTURES IN PUBLIC SCHOOL: 3 STARS. “not a matriarchal ‘Great Santini.'”

According to the dictionary the definition of helicopter parent is, “a parent who takes an overprotective or excessive interest in the life of their child or children.” That definition is stretched to the point of breaking by Claire (Judy Greer), overbearing mother of home-schooled teenager Liam (Daniel Doheny), in the new comedy “Adventures in Public School.”

Liam has a head full of stars. His dream of becoming a physicist, going to Cambridge to study with Stephen Hawking, is fully supported by his enthusiastic mother, who has prepped him academically. Before jetting off to England—with mom in tow—

he must take a high school equivalency exam. Within minutes of his first time in an actual school the guileless Liam falls for Anastasia (Siobhan Williams), a schoolgirl who lost a leg to cancer. In a moment of teenaged hormonal impulsivity he makes the decision to purposely flunk the exam so he can become a student at the school. Mom is displeased—she sees her alma mater as the root of much of what went wrong in her life—but comes to understand that Liam needs to be socialized before moving on to higher education. A fish-out-of-water, the Liam enrols—under an absent student’s name—and gets schooled in the mysteries of teen life.

“Adventures in Public School” succeeds as well as it does due to a heartfelt script that finds a new view of the kind of awkward teenaged character we’ve seen time after time in coming of age films. Doheny is an amiable presence, gawky but genial, who brings a great deal of charm to the quirky role. Similarly, Greer is a charismatic actor who shapes her character’s random assortment of personality quirks into a real person, both compelling and comic.

Director Kyle Rideout (who also co-wrote the script with Josh Epstein) wrangles the almost-too-close-for-comfort relationship between mother and son. What could have been a story of over-dependency is, in fact, grounded by just enough sincerity and affability to save it from becoming an a matriarchal “Great Santini.”

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