American High Schools are usually in the news due to some involuntary celibate taking out his frustrations with an arsenal of weapons and his right to bear arms and it can’t be long before there’s an amendment for the right to arm bears. But High Schools and colleges have always been a rich ground for dramas and comedies from the satire of ‘Election’ starring Reese Witherspoon to the gross out comedy of ‘Animal House’ to the dark humour of the peerless, ‘Heathers‘. Sitting somewhere in the middle is the straight drama which is where we find, Selah and the Spades.
From the opening montage it sets out that the prestigious Halwell Shool on the East Coast of the US has five student factions of which the Spades run by Selah (Lovie Simone) is one and the Bobby’s headed up by……. well, Bobby (Ana Mulvoy Ten) who wears a beret which in my day would set you apart as being entitled to having your head shoved down the toilet each break time. The five factions are coming to the end of their time at High School and getting ready for college. Selah is the most powerful head of all the factions but soon will have to hand over the reins to another.
Introduced into this is Paloma (Celeste O’Connor) new to the school and taken under Selah’s wing. Paloma is a keen photographer although for a contemporary drama she has an old school SLR film camera rather than snapping away on a phone camera. Something we’ve never understood is today’s almost relentless obsession with taking endless selfies when decades down the line it’s hard to imagine sitting down with their grandchildren and saying, ‘Let grandma show you some photos from when I was your age. There’s 72 million of them’.
Selah begins to see Paloma as an heir to her throne but it’s not without its problems and things start to get complicated around the ledger book that the five factions adhere to. It’s a mark that these factions are a humourless lot taking themselves a little too seriously that they need a ledger that and gives their existence all the credibilty of the Labour party celebrating Easter but only because it involves the death of a Jew. So when the Saleh and Bobby start arguing at their council meeting it’s a bit like a child’s birthday party with two girls squabbling over who gets the last cupcake. Much like the kids in UK TV school drama series ‘Grange Hill’, the students in Haldwell School are the least potty mouthed students in the US.
Selah and the Spades is a low budget independent film written and directed by Tayarisha Poe in her feature debut and the story is character driven but there are character traits that could have been explored further (Saleh’s romantic disinterest in boys for example). With the students obsessed with their own importance and relevance in the students social rankings, Selah and the Spades is a little too earnest with no humour to lighten the mood and even at 97 minutes it feels overlong even when it does start to liven up in the last act.
Here’s the Selah and the Spades trailer…….
Selah and the Spades is released on Amazon Prime on April 17th 2020