High School

High School

High School (Director: John Stalberg): I’m happy when a genre festival like Toronto After Dark decides to colour outside the lines a bit and bring in something that’s not specifically a horror, science-fiction, or martial arts film. Not that “stoner comedy” hasn’t become a genre unto itself, but sometimes it’s good to reach the non-horror crowd. So I was excited to see High School, (somewhat) fresh from its screenings at Sundance. Unfortunately, it’s a bit of a dud.

When Henry, the smartest kid at his high school, decides to smoke a joint for the first time with his onetime childhood pal Travis, he has no idea that fascist principal Gordon is about to introduce mandatory drug testing for all students, THE VERY NEXT DAY! When he finds out, he and stoner Travis decide that the only way to avoid failing the test is to make everyone at the whole school high. It’s an excellent coincidence that the school is having its extremely popular bake sale, also THE VERY NEXT DAY! They just have to steal some very potent flakes of concentrated THC from the most psycho pot dealer in the world, bake hundreds of brownies, and then switch them with the regular brownies. No problem for the smartest kid in the school and his new friend. Along the way, there’ll also be some male bonding and Henry will win the girl of his dreams and still get to be valedictorian.

Maybe I’m just old. I know these films aren’t supposed to make any sense. And yet, this one rubbed me the wrong way almost from the beginning. Our buddies bore an uncanny resemblance to Michael Cera and Jonah Hill in Superbad, a film I liked quite a bit, despite the similarly unrealistic plot and emotional bonding between two high school seniors going in different directions. The difference is in the writing. Every attempt at relationship-building in the film felt completely tacked on to the madcap action. I can almost see the writer cutting-and-pasting this stuff into the script in a late draft. And apart from Matt Bush as Henry, everyone else’s performance is wildly over-the-top, which is fine in the case of Michael Chiklis playing the evil principal, or Adrien Brody chewing the scenery as Psycho Ed the dealer. But I found the character of Travis Breaux (get it, bro?) and the actor playing him (Sean Marquette) to be insufferably smug. He represents the self-satisfaction of this film, which thinks it’s being edgy but is just charging off in all directions.

I found the treatment of female characters to be particularly poor, bordering on offensive. One of those is an Asian-American whose only function in the film is to provide the filmmakers a way to make repeated bad puns on her last name (Phuc, get it, bro?). The love object has precisely one line, and a number of other women in the film exist only to be ogled, fondled or harassed. This might have been okay in the 80s, but it feels dated and unfunny now.

Worst of all, for a stoner comedy, it actually makes getting high look like the worst thing in the world. Slowing down the audio to make people’s voices sound weird to the stoned isn’t that funny the first time. It’s certainly not funny the third or fourth time, either. Several characters hallucinate and become paranoid after smoking pot, and one decides to ride his skateboard off a ramp into the cafeteria on the next floor down, injuring himself in the process. You might as well have had someone thinking they could fly and jumping off the roof.

There are some very good stoner comedies out there (Harold and Kumar, for a start) so there isn’t any need to see bad ones, no matter how high you are. If this film was trying to be Superbad with weed, it just turned out to be super bad.



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6 Responses to High School

  1. fred rubin says:

    High School was amazing! everyone in the audience at Bloor was laughing hysterically from start to finish… there were seriously like 10 almost standing ovations DURING the movie! if anyone is smoking anything… this loser, JAMES MCNALLY is! This movie blows Superbad out of the water… that movie literally had no plot… this has a great concept and moves along so fast!

    And the guy who played Breaux was the BEST PART! everyone who was standing there outside afterwards was talking about that guy… he was so real and hilarious… classic. I can’t believe this blog disses him… james mcballs is sooo out of touch with today’s audience. he should find another job.

  2. Derek Harp says:

    I think its highly possible this reviewer was sold a bad batch of brownies…cause his judgment in what a good movie, especially comedies, seems way out of wack!!!

    I saw HIGH SCHOOL back at Sundance, and loved every minute of it. The witty dialogue…wild characters…dope score. An all around FUN Movie!

    I have a feeling this James guy may have walked into the wrong movie. Am I right? Were you wanting to see a deep thinker like…”Inception”? Awww…and you got stuck with a laid back and fun STONER-COMEDY!? Damn…


  3. Fred, your comment calling me McBalls was funnier than anything in the film. They should get you to write screenplays. Seriously, I’m still laughing at that one.

    But I do find it a little bit strange that two fans of this “laid back and fun” film jumped all over my review and made personal insults. You guys should just light(en) up and relax. People have different opinions. It’s okay.

  4. Fred Rubin says:

    haha! thanks James… maybe you’re not such a bad cunt afterall! 🙂 BUT — you still do have shit taste in movies, man. Think about that film again… you must have been the only one @ Bloor that didn’t like it! maybe you do have good taste in movies, just a bad sense of humor. Either way… thanks for the compliment, man… i have an idea for a screenplay that i want to start writing… it’s really funny and you should read it! Wait… nevermind. 😉

  5. Devon Prestinga says:

    I have to disagree with this guys review. I just saw this movie and really enjoyed it. Everything about it was really original. I dont really see how it can be compared to SUPERBAD, aside from the 2 characters looking a bit similar.

    This really isnt a movie that is meant to be picked at, for every detail. I think the Director was probably just aiming to make a fun movie, can have fun with…I know I had a good time!

  6. Melechesh says:

    Smoking makes most everything funny, and many will have a go-to selection of movies that pair especially well with pot. It’s surprising, then, that movies about weed don’t automatically fit into that category. If you’ve ever been sober in a room full of smokers you know that watching other people get stoned just ain’t that funny, and it’s even more difficult for a movie to impart a contact high.

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