Valuable lessons and comedy combine in the newest high school comedy film from director Malcolm Lee (“Girls Trip,” “Scary Movie 5”). Starring actor and comedian Kevin Hart (“Ride Along,” “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle”), “Night School” delivers life lessons while making audiences laugh until they cry.
During the press tour for “Night School,” The Phoenix attended an advanced screening of the film and caught up with Hart and producer Will Packer (“Ride Along,” “Girls Trip,” “Think Like A Man”) about the importance of education and what it means to receive a second chance in life.
In “Night School,” high school dropout Teddy Walker (Hart) had everything he wanted in life — an intelligent, hard-working girlfriend (Megalyn Echikunwoke), a fast-driving sports car and a seemingly glamorous life. After accidentally setting fire to his workplace, Teddy is promised a job by his best friend (Ben Schwartz) as a financial analyst as soon as he earns his GED certificate.
Determined to officially get his diploma, Hart takes on the challenge of night school. Guided by his feisty teacher (Tiffany Haddish), Teddy and six misfit students maneuver their way through school while being pestered by principal Stewart (Taran Killam), who runs the school with an iron fist and baseball bat.
Hart and Haddish have previously worked together on comedic documentaries “Dying Laughing” and “Def Comedy Jam 25.” In 2015 and 2018, Hart and Haddish were listed on TIME’s list of 100 Most Influential People.
According to Hart, Haddish was the first to be cast in “Night School.” Hart said he and Haddish were surrounded with actors, including Rob Riggle (“21 Jump Street,” “The Hangover”) and Anne Winters (“13 Reasons Why,” “Wicked City”), who could create a crazy environment in which everyone could help each other get through night school.
Packer echoed Hart and said each cast member was well-suited for their roles.
“From an acting standpoint, each person gets to do what they do very well,” Packer said. “That’s one of the things [with] this script — it allows those actors to play into their skill set. The best ensemble comedies do that — allow people to do what they do individually well, and hopefully if you have a great director like Malcolm Lee, it all comes together and blends seamlessly.”
Hart said his portrayal of a student brought back memories from his own time in high school. Hart said his high school experience was amazing, and if he could go back, he would’ve taken it more seriously.
“Everybody knew Kevin,” Hart said. “Everybody wanted to be around me and because of that, it was just a great time. I wish I would’ve taken school a little more serious. … If I had taken it more seriously, the knowledge that I had to go backward to get I would’ve already had. Going backward to get it made me appreciate what it is even more, and I’m able to give that message to a younger generation.”
While “Night School” is chock-full of crude humor and sexual innuendos, it transmits an uplifting message to its viewers both young and old: life is full of second chances.
Hart said he felt connected to the film since he was someone who’s been given many second chances, from financials to relationships. Hart was involved in a failed extortion attempt in 2017, according to The Washington Post. After divorcing his first wife, Torrei Hart, in 2011, Hart married Eniko Parrish in 2016, The Washington Post reported. Cheating allegations sparked in 2017, claiming Hart cheated on Parrish while she was pregnant with the couple’s first child, The Washington Post reported.
“What I’ve learned is that sometimes, you’re not going to get it right the first time but just because you don’t [always get it right] doesn’t mean that’s a thing that should set you back in life to where you feel like you just can’t,” Hart said. “Ultimately you can come back, and you can do it again and this time you can do it correctly. You can find out the mistakes you made the first time are easily corrected the second time.”
Through the stories of the seven students, “Night School” portrays the struggles and rewards of going back to school to earn a GED certificate, no matter a student’s background.
“Education is a thing where so many say, ‘You know what, I don’t want to go to college. I’m not going back,’ or ‘I didn’t get my diploma. I’m not going back,’” Hart said. “They fear what people may think. They fear what people may say. You realize that communication and conversation set you free. The more people know, the more they can help you with.”
When writing the screenplay for “Night School,” Hart said he wanted to make a movie that would appeal to a diverse audience, while still delivering an underlying message.
“It’s great to do a comedy, but when you can do a comedy and have an underlying message within it [and] track the stories of the characters you created, it makes your comedy stronger, it makes it relatable,” Hart said.
According to Hart, education is important and school should be taken seriously. Hart announced in an Instagram video his plans to run the Bank of America Chicago Marathon Oct. 7. In another video, the actor said he plans to raise money to send students to college.
“I want our younger generation to realize that education is free,” Hart said. “[Education is] not something that should be taken for granted because what you can put in your brain is what makes you stronger. These teachers — this is what I’ve realized at an older age — are investing in this thing called youth. They take the time out of their day to teach … so you can implement these things into your everyday life and hopefully go on to be bigger and better than any of us ever were.”
Hart said he hopes students realize education is achievable.
“[Night School] is a movie, but there’s a real message in it,” Hart said. “Take that message and apply it to your life and then ultimately become the best version of yourself.”
“Night School” will hit theaters nationwide Sept. 28.