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Movie Review

Mr. Woodcock is a gym teacher who's universally hated by every kid who has ever had the misfortune of winding up in his class. The hard-as-nails coach runs his gym like a boot camp. Endless push-ups, laps and public humiliation are the tools of his trade. Flabby students are the clay to be shaped.

One such chubby kid, John Farley, is about as sports-oriented as a slug and therefore becomes Woodcock's favorite whipping boy. The coach makes him strip and do pull-ups in his undershorts as a reminder to bring his gym clothes. A crushing blow to the crotch with a Wiffleball bat reminds him to wear his protective cup.

Jump ahead 15 years and John is now a successful writer. His bestselling book, Letting Go, is helping people around the world release the painful abuses of their past. The book has made him so successful, in fact, that he's busy full-time with speaking engagements and showered with awards. One award, though, stops him in his tracks. His hometown wants to honor him with the Corncob Key at the yearly Corncob festival.

When he arrives to claim it, he's faced with a horrifying fact: Coach Woodcock is dating his widowed mother. They're sexually involved and things are headed toward marriage. John determines to do whatever it takes to prove to his mom that the coach is an abusive jerk (and perhaps a smarmy adulterer). But John's efforts end in humiliation, almost kill his career and seem to do nothing but make the coach look good. Can this despicable tormentor be stopped?

Positive Elements

John and his mother, Beverly, have a loving relationship. And even though John makes poor choices, all his actions are intended to help her. Beverly is willing to sacrifice her happiness if it means saving the people she loves from turmoil.

The coach's disciplinary approach is harsh, but he does motivate some people to positive change. And they tell him so.

Spiritual Content

Coach Woodcock compliments John on a section in his book that deals with the principle of doing unto others as you would have them do unto you—and the author acknowledges that he got the idea from the Bible. A man thanks the coach for having him sent to jail as a youth because he met his "Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ" there. A little girl says that her dead cat went to heaven.

Sexual Content

People toss around a variety of crude jokes and comments concerning the coach and Beverly's sex life. His ex-wife raves about his sexual abilities, ending with, "He knows how to use what God gave him."

Indeed, Woodcock kisses Beverly several times throughout the film. And he and Beverly have noisy sex while John is hiding under their bed. We don't see them, but we do observe John's old classmate Nedderman videotaping them from the closet. Nedderman later mentions that it was "better" than anything he'd seen on the Internet.

Beverly wears a cleavage-revealing gown. Other women bare cleavage, too. The coach's ex dresses in short shorts and a skimpy, low-cut T-shirt, and she admits that she's a sex addict. She also says that it was her frequent affairs that ended her marriage. John's publicist, Maggie, puts salt on her neck for a man to lick off and a lime between her breasts. John dances and thrusts his pelvis after winning a contest.

There are a number of salacious sexual innuendoes dealing with male and female body parts, corncobs and homosexuality.

Violent Content

Mr. Woodcock contains a lot of supposedly ha-ha-funny pratfall violence that crosses any number of abuse-related boundaries. For example, the coach repeatedly hits a boy with a basketball as he runs laps around the gym. He violently throws young John to the mat five or six times while demonstrating wrestling moves. He hits a boy in the crotch with a Wiffleball bat. He rams a boy down to the ground with his foot. And he pushes an old man in a wheelchair into a pool.

John and Woodcock wrestle, punch and kick each other during a test of manliness that culminates in John hitting his old coach with a folding chair and then beating on his chest until he passes out. He—and we—think Woodcock might be dead. (He isn't.) Nedderman hits his younger brother in the eye with a kitchen chair. We see the bloodied eyebrow later. Woodcock thinks John is an intruder and hits him with a baseball bat. John is elbowed in the face and knocked out while trying to save a man in the pool.

The coach is strapped to a gurney that flips and lands him on his face in the street. Maggie warns John that some of his fans may really be stalkers who want to kidnap him and saw his feet off.

Crude or Profane Language

One f-word is supplemented by the use of "effing." There are about 20 uses of the s-word. There are also handfuls of the words "a--," "h---," "d--n" and "b--ch." God's and Jesus' names are misused several times each. A couple-dozen rude references are made to male and female body parts.

Drug and Alcohol Content

The coach and Beverly drink beer and wine at a restaurant and in her kitchen. Beverly drinks at a party. Maggie is seen drinking and smoking in several bar scenes. She asks for a bigger bottle of alcohol on a plane flight, saying, "I'm an alcoholic, not a Barbie doll." John drinks a beer.

A former student talks about the police finding a brick of marijuana in his school locker.

Other Negative Elements

John secretly dips the coach's whistle in a urine-filled toilet. John and Nedderman break into the coach's house.

John approaches the coach to apologize; Woodcock responds with, "I don't do sorry." John gives the coach a copy of his book for Christmas; Woodcock calls it "crap" and throws it in the fireplace.


Most people have known their own version of Mr. Woodcock at some point in life. Back in my high school heyday, one of the coaches taught driver's ed, too. He would complain loudly about women drivers when he wasn't bellowing at whomever was currently locked, white-knuckled, behind the steering wheel. Most thought him cantankerous, to be sure, and a little too hard-edged to be a teacher. But his students learned to drive! Or duck.

So I'm sure the idea of making a movie about everybody's least favorite gym teacher must have seemed like something masses of moviegoers would identify with. A funny tale about a guy returning home to find that the bane of his youthful existence is engaged to his mom. Ha. Argh.

To swish the ball through the middle of the net, then, just bring on Billy Bob Thornton's patented hard-nosed-jerk character, right? It must have felt like a perfect fit to the studio brain trust.

But just because the concept is clever and the torment-inflicting athletic director rings true doesn't necessarily make it worth making. Or seeing. It's all about the execution: The yuk-yuks in Mr. Woodcock involve such things as a fat kid forced to strip to his tighty-whities in front of his gym class and a grown man hiding under a bed while his mom and hated coach are ... active ... on top of it.

That's not yuk. It's yuck.

Embarrassing moments are more awkward than amusing here. Susan Sarandon appears to have been cast for little more than a few lewd jokes about her sex life and comments about her breasts. The acting that surrounds her is I've-got-a-real-job-next-week blasé. And the film's resolution is a 180 degree turn that's head-scratchingly unlikely.

In Mr. Woodcock's favor, I can say that it isn't quite as raunchy and foulmouthed as some other comedies that have splatted into the cineplex lately. And the story does attempt to give a few nods to family unity by the time we hit its conclusion. But that's hardly a game-winner. It's more akin to saying that a gloweringly iron-fisted coach/driving instructor isn't so bad because, well, at least he never draws blood.

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