Sweet, gentle, and authentic, this film chronicling a year at an Irish boarding school is the very best kind of observational documentary: one that ends with viewers feeling they've met new friends. A cynic -- or an inattentive viewer -- might complain that nothing really happens in School Life: Students horse around on the school's grounds, they noodle around on instruments, they sit in classrooms and rehearsal spaces discussing their lessons and each other. But in these slowly meted-out glances into the lives of the students and their teachers, we come to understand what an impressive place Headfort is, largely due to the people who work there. We get to know two teachers best: Amanda, a force of nature with an eyebrow piercing and an infectious love of the written word, and John, an outwardly gruff taskmaster who hopes that introducing his students to David Bowie and Jimi Hendrix will impart lessons about joy and rebellion. But John and Amanda are just two in a heavenly chorus of caring teachers who movingly fret about the past, present, and future of the children in their care.
And then there are the students, who mostly rush past the screen in small crowds, gossiping and giggling. A few take shape more solidly: a young dyslexic boy who sometimes acts the fool because he fears he's not noticed at all, a girl with a checkered school record, a sad-eyed girl whom it seems no one can reach. We're almost at the movie's end before we hear her say a word -- but she gets there. She smiles! And so do we. It's a small happening, in a small and quiet movie. But in its own unassuming way, these people, and this movie, will get to you.