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July 23, 2013

Movie Review: Biology 101 (2011)

The best part of Biology 101 is how incredibly relevant it is. The film, the first feature from writer/director Christopher Smith, touches on aspects of media manipulation, desire, hedonism and sex addiction in a manner that is relevant and, by all accounts, common. The presentation of this content does suffer a bit from the pacing of the film and what seems to be a reluctance to fully explore the inherent darkness in the subject matter. Regardless, Biology 101 does take upon itself the challenge of difficult material where many films would not, despite the lack of real depth.

The narrative is dark and dirty and a descent into the mind of poor, addled Bill Pollard. He teaches biology, of course, and, by all accounts, is a stable, normal family man and college professor. At the same time, he has an internet addiction, specifically to a webcam site starring a Dani Darling. He keeps things pretty well hidden until a new student, who bears an uncanny resemblance to Dani Darling, enrolls in his class. His obsession manifests in real life and, as we all know, obsessions like that lead us down into a spiral of deceit, self-destruction and despair.

What is really lacking here, though, is the culmination of the story. Bill (David Welborn) is a thoroughly unlikable character. He is a porn addict obsessed with a webcam model. He is a pervert and everything he wants and desires is directed toward that goal. He has the epiphany, though, and fights to get out of it. There is an inspired bit of subplot with Bill’s daughter Hannah (Emily Bicks) getting caught in his web of lies, but it is rectified pretty quickly and neatly. That’s the issue with Biology 101. It feels as if it wants to be daring and has potential to be as poignant as films like Requiem for a Dream or the Lars Von Trier train wreck/masterpieces. It stops itself, though, and takes the easy way out. Bill is a creep and, despite his new found interest in real life, needs to get what he deserves. He doesn’t. He gets out and has a chance to do it all over again when he really hasn’t earned that chance.

Although taking the road most traveled, Biology 101 does paint an effective picture of living with addiction and blackmail. Smith’s direction helps, here, and one can see that he is more than the sum total of the short film experience leading up to this feature film debut, but not even that can save the film from some wooden performances, odd lighting choices and the intrusive musical score.

Overall, Biology 101 is an effective film but hedges its own bets. The potential is there, especially for Smith’s directing, and given time to develop his own voice in a longer format, he could make some truly outstanding films.

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