Upon returning to his hometown to receive an honor from the city, he finds that his widowed mother is dating the dreaded Woodcock. This does not sit well with John, and neither does the fact that Woodcock is being honored with the Educator of the Year award (especially shocking considering his methods probably cross the line into child abuse). Well, John wants none of it and sets out to break up the seemingly happy couple, even at the cost of ignoring the content of his own book which had served him so well to this point.
Surprisingly (I said that already, right?), the way it plays out has an unexpected amount of heart. While it builds to an easily foreseeable conclusion, it works out rather well. I found myself enjoying the interaction between Woodcock and Farley.
Even Susan Sarandon as John's mother is rather effective. The strength lies in what drives the characters. Could it have been executed better? Most definitely. Still, there is no denying that the wreck that the commercials seem to assure is avoided by the building blocks of the main trio.
Billy Bob Thornton has taken his cruelly apathetic Bad Santa character and given him a more pro-active mean streak. Rather than being content to mock those around him while engaging in self-destructive behavior, this character takes care of himself and has the carefully honed skill of centering in on flaws and exploiting them to perfect effect. This is a skill that he gets to put into use at every opportunity.
What you learn by the end of the film is that, whether he means it or not, his methods actually have an effect on the target. Seann William Scott embodies the person on the receiving end of the abuse. His Farley character is someone who has gone through a lot to get where he is today, seemingly without actually realizing the great extent of influence that Woodcock has had on his life journey. Finally, there is the attention-starved Beverly, who was widowed early and had to raise John alone. She is finally getting the attention of a man who seems emotionally stunted to most, yet has found a way to share himself beyond all reason with her.