Review: ‘The Tutor’ (2023), starring Garrett Hedlund, Noah Schnapp and Victoria Justice

April 3, 2023

by Carla Hay

Noah Schnapp and Garrett Hedlund in “The Tutor” (Photo courtesy of Vertical)

“The Tutor” (2023)

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.

Victoria Justice in “The Tutor” (Photo courtesy of Vertical)

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 “The Tutor” immediately looks phony and outdated, because these kids aren’t shown doing any schoolwork on a computer.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.

Review: ‘Trust’ (2021), starring Victoria Justice, Matthew Daddario, Katherine McNamara and Lucien Laviscount

March 12, 2021

by Carla Hay

Victoria Justice and Matthew Daddario in “Trust” (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)

“Trust” (2021)

Directed by Brian DeCubellis

Culture Representation: Taking place in New York City and briefly in Paris, the dramatic film “Trust” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few Asians, Latinos and black people) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: An art gallery owner and her TV journalist husband are both suspicious of and tempted by possibilities that they could cheat on each other.

Culture Audience: “Trust” will appeal primarily to people who like formulaic stories about marital problems that have all the characteristics of a mediocre made-for-TV movie.

Lucien Laviscount in “Trust” (Photo courtesy of Vertical Entertainment)

People who watch the dramatic film “Trust” might be wondering why this conventional and trite movie wasn’t made for the Lifetime network. The only difference between “Trust” and a Lifetime movie is that “Trust” has some curse words that can’t be in a Lifetime movie. The entire story is as predictable as you might expect. The plot twist in the movie isn’t too surprising.

The entire plot of “Trust” (directed by Brian DeCubellis) revolves around a topic that’s a familiar staple of Lifetime movies: A woman begins to wonder if her husband or boyfriend is keeping secrets from her. In the case of “Trust,” the doubts are about marital fidelity. The entire film would have been more entertaining if there weren’t such long stretches of dullness and if the movie had a more talented cast of actors.

In “Trust,” the New York City married couple at the center of the drama are Brooke Gatwick (played by Victoria Justice) and Owen Shore (played by Matthew Daddario), who are going through a big transition in their lives. Brooke has quit her job at auction house Sotheby’s to open her own self-titled art gallery. It’s a major gamble because Brooke and Owen have poured their entire life savings into the gallery.

Owen is a TV news anchor at a local station, but he’s become bored by all the “soft” news stories (such as dog weddings) that he’s been given to report. He completely supports Brooke’s career ambitions. But Brooke is insecure about Owen’s job situation because he’s surrounded by attractive young women who work with him as producers or other employees. It isn’t made clear how long Brooke and Owen (who are in their late 20s or early 30s) have been married, but they have been a couple since they were in high school.

The opening scene of “Trust” is a sex scene where viewers don’t see the faces of who’s having sex, but it’s clear that it’s a man and a woman. It’s a foreshadowing of what happens later in the movie, when it’s revealed who these sex partners are. While they’re going at it, someone’s phone is on a nearby table. Someone else is sending text messages that are going unanswered on that phone.

The next scene shows Brooke coming home from a business trip that she took in Paris. She looks exhausted. Owen and Brooke hug and tell each other, “I missed you.” It’s revealed later in the movie that Brooke was in Paris to sell some art by an up-and-coming Irish painter named Ansgar Doyle (played by Lucien Laviscount), whom Brooke has paid to relocate to New York City. Brooke is also acting as Ansgar’s official agent.

Laviscount, who is British in real life, tries very hard to be sexy in this role, but his terrible Irish accent is very distracting and almost laughable. Most of the time, he sounds British, and a few times he sounds as if he’s bungling an Italian accent. Based on what happens in this movie, the character of Ansgar didn’t have to be Irish.

It shows bad decision making from the “Trust” filmmakers that they didn’t just let Laviscount keep his natural British accent. No one watching this movie will care what nationality Ansgar is, but they will care if the acting is good or not. It’s not.

Ansgar, whose specialty is sexually themed art, is the first artist whose work is showcased in Brooke’s gallery when it opens. He was a Dublin street artist who was starting to make a name for himself in Europe, but Brooke “discovered” him online and decided that she’s going to make him a star in the United States. Ansgar is arrogant and an obvious playboy.

You know where this is going. And if isn’t obvious enough that Ansgar is going to try and seduce Brooke, his first exhibit at her gallery is titled “Sexual Truth and the Myth of Fidelity.” It’s a series of painted portraits of women who are completely naked.

The first time that viewers see Ansgar, he’s at Brooke’s gallery for a photo shoot and an interview for an unnamed publication. He’s being interviewed by a journalist named Diana (played by Nathalie Carvalho), as he lounges on a chair with his legs spread in a suggestive manner. During the interview, Ansgar brags that he’s slept with all of the models whose nude portraits he’s painted.

Diana asks him, “Is that moral?” Ansgar smirks as he replies, “Why? Are you a model?” When Diana asks him if his art is just all about sex, Ansgar responds, “I only paint those women that are particularly special to me. It’s intimate, sexual, yes. But it’s more than that. It’s the exact moment of ultimate connection that’s captured forever in the painting.”

Watching this interview nearby are Brooke and Owen. As soon as Ansgar starts talking about sleeping with his models, Brooke get uncomfortable. She steps in and cuts the interview short and tells Diana, “No personal questions.”

Diana takes Brooke aside and gives her opinion of Ansgar and his art, “Look, Brooke, he’s brilliant. But as your friend, I’m calling it. The other critics will tear this apart.”

Brooke replies with a certain amount of pretension: “Picasso, Klimt, Lucian Freud—they were all called pornographers. Look, I know what I believe in. And if the critics don’t understand this, then they’re wrong!”

Meanwhile, Ansgar stands next to Owen as they watch Brooke. Ansgar tells Owen that Brooke is hot. Ansgar then adds with his usual smirk, “When women get absorbed in me, you can’t talk to them.” Owen has an expression on his face as if to say, “I can’t believe this clown just said that out loud, but whatever.”

After leaving the gallery, Brooke and Owen have dinner at a Chinatown restaurant with another married couple, who are their closest friends. Adam (played by Ronny Chieng) and Eleanor (played by Lindsey Broad) are both divorce attorneys who are cynical about marriage except their own. For example, Adam and Eleanor tell Brooke and Owen that almost all marriages experience infidelity at one point or another.

The dinner is to celebrate the opening of Brooke’s gallery, and the two couples raise their glasses to toast Brooke. However, Owen chimes in that he deserves a toast too because he thinks Brooke’s gallery will be such a success that Owen half-jokingly says that he will get to “retire early and fulfill my life’s purpose to be a trophy husband.”

The conversation gets a little bit uncomfortable when Eleanor comments that Ansgar is a “hunk” and asks if Owen is okay with Brooke working so closely with him. Adam and Eleanor then rudely talk about how they’ve learned as divorce attorneys that “everyone cheats” in marriages. It’s a buzzkill turn of the conversation for Brooke and Owen.

Do Brooke and Owen have a perfect marriage? Of course not, because there would be no “Trust” movie if they did. Brooke sometimes checks Owen’s phone or iPad when he’s not looking. She questions him if she sees a woman’s name whom Brooke doesn’t recognize. For example, when Owen gets a text from a woman named Susan, Brooke asks Owen who it is, and he says it’s a new co-worker.

But something happens that deepens a crack in Owen and Brooke’s marriage. It’s close to the Christmas holidays, and Owen surprises Brooke with plane tickets for both of them to spend Christmas in Paris. However, Brooke declines the offer when she says that she’ll be too busy with her art gallery work.

And this raises Owen’s eyebrows: Brooke says she also doesn’t want to go to Paris because she doesn’t want to be too far away from Ansgard, who’s never lived in the U.S. before. “He needs me!” Brooke tells Owen, who tries not to get jealous and angry at this remark. Owen expresses disappointment in Brooke’s decision, but ultimately he says that he understands.

Not long after Brooke tells Owen that she doesn’t want to go to Paris, she gets some news that changes her mind. Ansgar tells her that a famous movie director named Damien Light wants to buy some of Ansgar’s art. Damien is filming a movie in Paris, and Ansgar says the best way to seal this art deal is to go to Paris for a meeting that’s set to take place in two days.

At first, Brooke says that she can’t go because she’s too busy and can’t afford the trip. Ansgar says that he’s going with or without her. Brooke then has a conversation with Eleanor, who tells Brooke that she would be crazy not to go to Paris for this trip. And so, Brooke relents and agrees to go to Paris with Ansgar.

Brooke goes to the TV station where Owen works. And when he’s on a break, she brings him coffee and tells him the news that she’s going on a weekend trip to Paris with Ansgar. When Owen hears about it, he’s understandably upset, even though Brooke swears the trip is strictly business.

As “revenge,” Owen announces to the staffers nearby that he’s now available to take a work trip to Las Vegas that same weekend to cover a Christmas event hosted by The New Yorker. A young and attractive female producer cheers and says she and the other women want to sit near Owen on the plane. And now, it’s Brooke’s turn to feel jealous.

Ansgar is an egotistical jerk, but in a movie like this, he’s supposed to be a “bad boy” some women can’t resist. There are hints that Brooke is attracted to and/or intrigued by Ansgar. For example, she doesn’t immediately pull away when he stands too close to her, or when he puts his hands on her legs or on her back, very close to her rear end. Before Brooke leaves for her Paris trip, Owen notices that she’s packed a very slinky red dress. Brooke tells Owen that he has to be understanding.

Owen and Adam have drinks together at a bar during the first night that Brooke is away in Paris. While they’re minding their own business, a pretty blonde in her 20s approaches Owen and says she recognizes him from TV. She introduces herself as Amy (played by Katherine McNamara), and she says she’s a student at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.

Amy mentions that she’s an aspiring TV news journalist and that she admires Owen, even if she doesn’t agree with some of his journalistic opinions. She acts very star-struck and asks Owen for his autograph and if she can take a photo with him. He’s surprised and flattered, so he willingly obliges.

It soon becomes clear from Amy’s flirtations that she wants more than career advice from Owen, who tells her that he’s married. Amy doesn’t seem to care that Owen has a wife. Meanwhile, Adam nervously drops hints that he doesn’t want to stick around for any infidelity shenanigans. He makes an excuse to leave and asks Owen if he wants to leave with him. How Owen handles this situation is the catalyst for the rest of the drama in the story.

“Trust” over-uses a technique of repeating a scene as a flashback or as a flashforward to show how the scene takes on a different meaning once certain secrets are revealed. The movie is based on Kristen Lazarian’s play “Push,” and this flashback/flashforward technique works better in a movie than it would in a play. However, all of this time-jumping in “Trust” (whose screenplay was written by Lazarian, DeCubellis and K.S. Bruce) comes across as clunky storytelling.

There are some plot developments in “Trust” that are unnecessary and not very well-constructed. For example (and it isn’t spoiler information to say this), Owen’s business trip to Las Vegas is never seen or mentioned again, even though it was set up to look like it would be a possible opportunity for him to cheat on Brooke. It doesn’t make sense to have an entire scene of Owen deciding to take this trip when it’s a plot development that’s then ignored.

There are plot holes galore. For example, one of the suspicious spouses goes to the trouble of tracking a rideshare that the other spouse took late one night. It’s later revealed in the movie what that spouse was doing sneaking out so late at night. But the way the truth is revealed is so common-sense basic that the snooping spouse should have found out the truth sooner.

As for the acting, Justice has a few good scenes as the conflicted Brooke, but Justice and Daddario have a “Ken and Barbie doll” type of chemistry that comes across as too plastic. Some of their acting together is monotonous, with awkward pauses. The Adam and Eleanor characters are very smug and grating (especially when they seem to take pleasure in other people’s marriages going bad), but Broad shows more talent in her acting than Chieng does.

Laviscount is woefully miscast for the reasons stated above, and he is in serious need of more acting lessons. His Ansgard character tries too hard to be sexy, which actually makes him very unsexy. It doesn’t help that Ansgard’s costume design includes Ansgard wearing a fur coat and gold chain, as if he’s trying to look like some kind of pimp. And unfortunately, McNamara (who co-starred with Daddario in the Freeform fantasy drama series “Shadowhunters”) is cast as a stereotypical blonde seductress in “Trust,” so she doesn’t have much depth to work with for her Amy character.

The last 20 minutes of “Trust” are a rush job that sloppily crams certain things into the plot to quickly resolve the conflicts in the story. Up until a certain point in the movie, viewers are kept guessing over whether or not Brooke cheated, Owen cheated, or both of them cheated. But by the end of the movie, the only people who should feel cheated are those who wasted their time watching this tedious and unoriginal film.

Vertical Entertainment released “Trust” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on March 12, 2021.

Copyright 2017-2024 Culture Mix