Candy Jar is a simple movie—the type that, as soon as it’s set up, you can tell exactly where it’s going, beat for beat, until the credits. It follows two high school students, both of whom are extremely ambitious and competitive. They are co-presidents of the debate team, and they’re both applying to Ivy League schools. Their only significant difference comes from their backgrounds: Lona (Sami Gayle) is poor, while Bennett (Jacob Latimore) is rich.
It’ll surprise you not at all to learn that these lifelong rivals, who are effectively the same person, start to notice that they don’t actually hate each other once they begin talking and not debating. Candy Jar has many life lessons, acting much like a Disney movie in that respect. Actually, if it had been a Disney Channel release instead of a Netflix Original, that wouldn’t have surprised me—beyond a couple of profanities, of course. It’s largely pleasant, uncomplicated, and positive. There are a couple of laughs along the way, and while you’ve seen most of it before in other, better movies, it might be a decent rainy afternoon watch—if you’re in its demographic, mainly 13-year-olds who need to be told that having friends is good.
That’s what many of these Netflix Original movies have wound up being, haven’t they? The company plans to release over 80 of them in 2018 alone, and many of them are middle-of-the-road, watch-when-bored, pleasant-and-inoffensive types that wouldn’t have played well in theaters but on a streaming service are kind of perfect. They’ll find their audience there. The niche to which they appeal will find them.
Otherwise, Candy Jar has very little going against it and even less going for it. It has weak characters, only a few laughs, life lessons so blatant that it’ll be impossible to miss them, only a few laughs—almost all of which come from the adults, in supporting roles—and decent acting. Its heart is in the right place, but if you’re already out of high school, any wisdom it has to impart is going to be lost on you, in large part because of how lacking in subtlety is is.
But it is pleasant enough, it doesn’t overstay its welcome, and while it’s largely predictable from start to finish, it does throw one surprising turn in there. The problem, as is the case for most of the film, is that it doesn’t do anything with its one shock. It happens, is given about a scene of reflection, and then we move on and never mention it again. These aren’t characters; they’re puppets for the screenplay to get across its point in whatever scene they’re doing at the time. Nothing has weight.
Candy Jar is a high school movie that is more interested in hammering home life lessons than giving us strong characters, laughs, or even entertainment. It is a by-the-numbers movie that hits pretty much every beat you’d expect given its premise, and does it so matter-of-factly and without weight that it’s impossible to care. It’s inoffensive and doesn’t make you hate it, but if you’re looking for anything more than a Disney Channel-quality movie, you’ll want to look elsewhere.
Conclusion: Candy Jar is a weightless high school movie.
Recommendation: If you want Election-lite, maybe Candy Jar will be worth your time.