The First Grader stars Oliver Litondo as late Kenyan Kimani Maruge, the Guinness World Record holder for being the oldest person to start primary school. The 84-year-old signed up in 2004, taking advantage of the government’s then-new initiative to provide free education for the nation’s children. Maruge was no kid, but the illiterate former rebel felt he’d more than earned his  place in class, and was willing to fight bigotry and discrimination for it.

It’s an inspirational tale, no question, but it’s worth noting Adam Sandler has already made a movie about an older gentleman going back to school. Now, I’m not sure Billy Madison received a theatrical release in Kenya, but the events of that 1995 film precede Maruge’s life by at least nine years, so it’s not out of the realm of possibility to imagine he was inspired by the flick. I wonder if his exploits as a wedding singer will also be revealed soon?

OK, the Kimani Maruge/Billy Madison connection is a facetious one. However, you shouldn’t naturally presume that the “worthy” drama is immediately better than the silly comedy. The First Grader is a self-congratulatory and subtlety-free slog that makes saints of its protagonists, devils out of its antagonists and narcoleptics out of its audience.

Though Naomie Harris is charming as Maruge’s patient, peaceful teacher, Justin Chadwick‘s direction is limp, and Ann Peacock’s screenplay seeks to moralise and patronise without first constructing an interesting story. A man like Maruge deserves better.