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Spud 3: Learning to Fly
Genre Comedy
 
Review:

Spud 3: Learning to Fly is the third part of the popular series of boarding school misadventures by John Van De Ruit. The film sees many actors reprise their roles, including stars Troye Sivan as John "Spud" Milton and John Cleese as "The Guv". As if having three Johns wasn't enough, they've gone and added another with director John Barker picking up the series after Donovan Marsh directed Spud and Spud 2: The Madness Continues.

It's 1992 and our reluctant hero, Spud Milton, returns to school as a senior. As he stumbles through the uncertain and awkward teens, trouble at home and slipping grades force him to dig deep as he attempts to secure another year with the Crazy Eight by achieving top honours in the classroom and on the sports field.

Spud 2 was an all-out school romp, focusing on the exploits of the Crazy Eight as they create a legacy. Spud 3 has toned down the pranks to concentrate on more of the personal drama of peer pressure, growing pains and school politics. It's more melancholic and hesitant as Spud tries to keep a lid on his home and school life, while hurdling life's obstacles and learning to take responsibility.

His love life is on the rocks, his parents are not seeing eye-to-eye and everything seems to be weighing down on him to the point of questioning the meaning of it all. The screenplay touches on a number of issues, tuning into various aspects of Spud's life and lacing it all together with a to-do list in order to ostensibly fix it all.

It's not to say there's no fun, because being at a traditional boarding school and collaborating with a sister school for a Shakespeare production means there are plenty of opportunities for mischief. While mostly faithful, the adaptation skips over a key character, reduces the importance of others and adjusts some outcomes. While you can understand the need to home in, some might not enjoy the fresh take as much as they ought to.

Troye Sivan just seems more comfortable with the character as a somewhat melancholic and self-doubting Spud, leaning into the drama and situational comedy more readily. It's his third appearance and Sivan just seems more in tune with the character than in Spud 2.

John Cleese is back as Spud's mentor and friend, "The Guv". It's always a joy to see Cleese on film and he doesn't disappoint, delivering some great wisecracks and chiming in with the special bond that "The Guv" and Spud have developed from the previous films. While he's still there for the fireside chats and some hush-hush banter, we see his character enjoying a sweet romantic subplot of his own.

Spud 3: Learning to Fly sees the introduction of YouTube sensation, Caspar Lee, who plays Garlic the weird Malawian kid. We also see the inclusion of the housemaster's snarky second-in-command, Norman Whiteside, played to great effect by Luke Tyler in a role that deserved more versus antagonism. While the focus isn't on the Crazy Eights, the gang are back with a bang and instead of breaking the rules, they begin a race for the prestige of being inducted as house prefects.

Aaron McIlroy and Julie Summers get more screen time as Spud's parents. McIlroy is energetic as usual with his cringe-worthy antics and the two have more emotional ties in the story as finances and a vivacious new neighbour put pressure on their marriage.

While John Barker has been brought on as director and the story has new focus areas and characters, the Spud series is mostly consistent, thanks to its core ensemble and coming-of-age themes. Although it would have felt more authentic if more of the teachers had remained and the main boarding school shooting location had stayed the same throughout the series.

Spud 3: Learning to Fly has grown with its audience and cast, offering more in the way of an existential crisis. The slightly darker, more serious tone gives the drama more weight without diminishing the vitality of the comedy. As John Cleese once said "comedy is very much like tragedy, the only difference being that comedy lacks sympathy". We see Spud's life in a tragic light and while he suffers in silence, there's bittersweet comic relief at the heart of it all.

Spud 3 may not be the bag of fun you saw in Spud 2, but works well enough off its "bucket list" concept to keep us invested in our hero as he undergoes a series of trials and misadventures. He's still the same Spud you'll want to cheer over the finish line and while his circumstances aren't light-hearted, he gives us an opportunity to share our burdens with him in these tough times.

The bottom line: Bittersweet

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