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High School

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High School posterHigh School is too good to pass over, to consign as a mere stoner movie. It should be discussed in the same breath as the work of Hughes and Linklater, not merely in the same paragraph. A significant part of what makes High School so entertaining is the extent to which the audience feels part of the fun. Truly likeable characters and the excellent cast who bring them to life are critical to this. A sharp, original script with its fast and hard humour keep us on side, perpetuating the snowballing feel-good effect.

The two leads, Henry Burke (Matt Bush) and Travis Breaux (Sean Marquette) particularly impress. The former played our hero’s puerile nemesis in Adventureland, but is here cast against type as the straight-laced leading man, and pulls it off with aplomb. Meanwhile, the latter gets a little limelight after years as a teen actor on television, and convinces as the stoner with a heart of gold.

Subverting the typical anti-drug narrative exploited by reactionary campaigners and educational bodies in the US, Burke is a straight-A student destined for MIT. But in an impulsive moment of bonding and rediscovered childhood kinship, he takes a puff of “the sticky green…the cannabis sativa” from former pal Breaux (aptly named, indeed). This unfortunately coincides with their principal (by God, the most remarkable transformation of Michael Chiklis), whose shoulder carries a chip the size of Michigan, instigating a war on drugs, beginning with comprehensive drug screening.

The two teens are brought together by their near-forgotten friendship, a sense of responsibility for the screw-up, and a desperate need to save a promising future. The wicked scheme that Beaux concocts? You can’t expel Burke if the entire school tests positive…they hatch a riotous scheme to dope the entire school population. That is the whole premise, but it’s filled out and followed up with such wit and joie de vivre that this description fails to capture what makes the film so special.

There’s dope-fiend, drug dealer (and qualified attorney) Psycho Ed, played by an increasingly unpredictable Adrien Brody. How many left-field, low-budget roles has he taken on since King Kong? This must be the best. This is the guy our heroes choose to rob from for their madcap plan. We meet him as he sits in a cloud of weedsmoke by a tank, in which his pet toad croaks “Whut?”, to his perennial bafflement. He’s a dangerous element, though not ultimately a malevolent force.

The Board of Governors spends half the film touring their school, affording countless opportunities for ridiculous interaction with the stoned student body – particularly redolent of The Happiest Days of Your Life. Staff reveal their most intimate of intimates. And Brandon Ellis (Colin Hanks), the down-with-it Assistant Dean, riffs wildly on his half-baked jive talk, somehow managing to channel the early Judge Reinhold.

I must confess that there’s nothing unexceptional about any one element of the production. It is unremarkably shot, apparently effortlessly so, and in each scene they clearly stick to the script without creative spontaneity. What makes it more than the sum of is parts is the good job each component does, and the sheer sense of fun the whole thing is animated by. A simple, dirty good laugh – and the best (male) teen comedy since Superbad.


High School, dir. John Stalberg, wri. Linthorst, Stalberg, Susco, star. Adrien Brody, Colin Hanks, Michael Chiklis, Matt Bush, Sean Marquette, US, 2009


Written by James P. Campbell

20/06/2010 at 23:29

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