Submission starts out well enough, with Stanley Tucci doing his best as Ted, a mildly discontented novelist who teaches at a liberal arts college in Vermont. But things devolve quickly from Perrotta-adjacent domestic dramedy to outright cliché when Ted falls in love with a student (Addison Timlin), who is somehow writing a publishable novel. (Okay, stop: Have you ever been in an undergraduate creative writing class? NONE OF THAT STUFF IS GOOD.)
Anyway, buckle in, because it gets worse! The wunderkind child-novelist seduces Ted, and accuses him of sexual harassment in a twist that should play well with no one but Reddit’s rape apologist goblins.
Submission is based on Francine Prose’s 2000 novel Blue Angel, and maybe it would’ve been well received 17 years ago. But in a political climate of heightened awareness around sexual assault and harassment in professional and educational settings, the narrative of a mediocre man felled by a scheming young lady seems a tasteless and tone-deaf choice.
And while it’s certainly possible to make a sympathetic character out of a washed-up white male novelist, the gold standard was set by Michael Douglas in Wonder Boys nearly 20 years ago, and Submission doesn’t even come close to it. Wonder Boys was great because it acknowledged the limitations of its central characters without making them complete cretins. Submission affords its characters no such depth, and ends up seeming to take the side of sexual harassers over victims. (Many colleges discourage relationships between instructors and students; is that really such a terrible thing?) It’s a weird, sophomoric performance of edginess that wouldn’t be out of place in the work of any number of real-life mediocre novelists. Maybe one of them will like this movie. For everyone else, you’re better off revisiting Wonder Boys.