April 3, 2023
by Carla Hay
Directed by Jordan Ross
Culture Representation: Taking place in New York City and on New York state’s Long Island, the dramatic film “The Tutor” features a nearly all-white cast of characters (with a few people of Asian heritage) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.
Culture Clash: A financially desperate tutor is hired by a mysterious billionaire to tutor the billionaire’s 17-year-old son, who becomes obsessed with the tutor, and dark secrets emerge that could be deadly.
Culture Audience: “The Tutor” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching low-quality mystery thrillers that have muddled and disjointed stories.
After watching “The Tutor,” it’s obvious that the filmmakers need lessons on how to make a good movie. This flimsy drama about a tutor stalked by a student ends up falling apart with avoidable plot holes and a stupid ending. It looks like a movie that started out with a fairly good concept, but the filmmakers decided to just throw in a bunch of ludicrous ideas, and then tack on a very lazy ending that leaves many questions unanswered.
Directed by Jordan Ross and written by Ryan King, “The Tutor” could have had many clever and interesting things to say about the abuse of power and privilege from ultra-wealthy people. Instead, the movie rehashes many of the same storylines found in third-rate stalker thrillers that are throwaway, forgettable movies on TV. There are a few surprises in “The Tutor,” but they are badly mishandled and further damage what little credibility that “The Tutor” had.
In “The Tutor,” Garrett Hedlund portrays a tutor named Ethan, who works for an agency in New York City called Tutornym, which has many wealthy clients who hire the tutors to teach the clients’ underage children. (“The Tutor” was actually filmed in Alabama, mostly in the Birmingham area.) A montage in the beginning of the film shows that Ethan is a tutor to a variety of rich teenagers at their lavish homes. “The Tutor” immediately looks phony and outdated, because these kids aren’t shown doing any schoolwork on a computer. The movie makes it looks like Ethan mainly teaches his students by using flash cards to quiz them.
Ethan and his pregnant live-in girlfriend Annie (played by Victoria Justice) are expecting their first child together. Later in the movie, they find out the baby’s gender from a medical exam. It’s also mentioned in “The Tutor” that Annie and Ethan have been a couple for five years. They have some trust issues because Ethan apparently cheated on Annie in the past.
For now, Ethan’s tutoring salary is the couple’s only income. And they’re a little worried about how they’re going to be able to afford the expenses of raising a child. One day, Ethan gets a call at the Tutornym office from his hard-partying boss Chris (played by Joseph Castillo-Midyett), who is rarely at the office and spends a lot of time getting drunk in nightclubs. Chris tells Ethan about a summer job offer that has a salary that Ethan thinks is too high to refuse: a billionaire (whose name Chris refuses to tell Ethan) wants to hire Ethan to tutor the billionaire’s 17-year-old son for $2,500 a day.
Chris tells Ethan that the payments will be made “under the table” (not reported to the Internal Revenue Service) and that Ethan has to live at the family’s property on Long Island, for a one-week trial period. After that first week, the family will decide if they will hire Ethan for the rest of the summer. Ethan might be “book smart,” but time and time again, he shows that he’s not “street smart.”
But you don’t have to be “street smart” to have the common sense to know that a shady deal like this sounds too good to be true. The obvious red flags are that the employer doesn’t want Ethan to know his name and wants to secretly pay Ethan. (This deal also makes Chris corrupt too.) Ethan eagerly takes the job because he and Annie need the money. When he tells Annie about this new job, she doesn’t question the warning signs either, which is basically the movie’s way of showing that Annie is less-than-smart too.
When Ethan arrives at the Long Island estate for this new tutoring job, he is dazzled by all the first-class service he gets and the wealth on display at this estate. He is driven to the property by a chauffeur (played by Escalante Lundy), and he is given a private tour of some of the property by a butler (played by Kamran Shaikh), who are both polite and professional. How rich is this family? An awestruck Ethan tells Annie in a phone conversation that he saw 50 motorcycles on the property. Ethan also seems very impressed that his guest lodging has its own pool table.
The father who hired Ethan is nowhere to be seen during Ethan’s first few days on the job. Ethan has been hired to tutor Jackson (played by Noah Schnapp), who is highly intelligent but socially awkward. Jackson is apparently prepping to go to whatever elite university he is expected to attend. However, when Ethan asks Jackson what his SAT scores are, Jackson says he doesn’t know. Jackson tells Ethan, “I’ll have my dad’s assistant forward them.”
One of the many ways that “The Tutor” looks very fake is that this huge property has very few employees. It’s understandable that a low-budget independent film isn’t going to have a large number of people in its principal cast. However, it wouldn’t be that hard or expensive to get some background extras to portray a realistic number of servants that would be needed for the upkeep of this estate.
Ethan gives Jackson some initial tests in math and English. He finds that Jackson has perfect scores on these tests. The question somewhat crosses Ethan’s mind about why he’s even needed as a tutor, because apparently this kid is smarter than Ethan. However, Ethan (who’s mostly thinking about the money he’s getting paid for this job) tells Annie that he was probably hired to keep Jackson company. Ethan says to Annie that he suspects that Jackson is somewhere on the autism spectrum.
During Ethan’s first day on the job, he also meets Jackson’s creepy cousin Gavin (played by Jonny Weston) and his smirking girlfriend Jenny (played by Kabby Borders), who are both in their late 20s. Gavin and Jenny apparently don’t do anything but lounge around and party. Later, it’s explained to Ethan that Gavin doesn’t live there, but Gavin usually visits Jackson every summer.
One day, Ethan ends up riding in a car with Gavin as the driver, and the other passengers are Jenny and an attractive woman in her 20s named Teddi (played by Ekaterina Baker), who is a friend of Gavin and Jenny. Gavin makes a strange comment to Ethan that Ethan can have Teddi whenever he wants, as if Teddi is merely a plaything to be passed around. Ethan declines the offer and says he already has a girlfriend. It’s another red flag that Ethan doesn’t seem to notice or doesn’t care to notice. Another red flag that Ethan chooses to brush aside is how he gets conflicting information about why Jackson has an absentee mother.
The rest of “The Tutor” goes through the expected motions in showing Jackson’s obsession with Ethan, as well as the escalating danger involved. Hedlund and Schnapp try very hard to be convincing in their roles, but many of their melodramatic scenes are downright cringeworthy because of all of the over-acting. In other scenes, their acting is listless and hollow. All of the other cast members play two-dimensional characters and give unremarkable performances.
As more ominous things start happening to Ethan, viewers will be wondering why Ethan doesn’t do what most people would do in his situation: Find out exactly who hired him to tutor Jackson. He has a lot of information at his disposal, starting with the address of the mansion. But no, this dimwit doesn’t do any common-sense research, because there would be no idiotic “plot twists” in “The Tutor” if he found out this information earlier. Instead, Ethan wastes a lot of time whining to Annie and some other people about how he’s teaching a mentally ill student who’s become obsessed with him.
The plot twists in the “The Tutor” just further tangle this mess of a story. The movie has some atrocious film editing choices that add to the sloppy filmmaking. It’s ironic that one of the main characters of “The Tutor” is supposed to be highly intelligent, but the movie spends almost all of its time relentlessly insulting the intelligence of viewers.
Vertical released “The Tutor” in select U.S. cinemas on March 24, 2023.