‘Writers Choice’ is a monthly segment. Each month a theme will be chosen and the contributors asked to choose a film to mini-review based around said theme. This months theme is ‘school’.
Trilby’s and trench coats are switched for jeans and beanies in Rian Johnson’s directorial début ‘Brick’- bringing the noir to a whole new audience. Invigorating the genre into something that not only screams early 2000’s gritty indie flick but also interweaves the sleek and slick detective narrative style of a traditional noir. Starring indie favourite Joseph Gordon Levitt (who ten years ago was clearly going through his Heath Ledger phase) as Brendan, our guide through the underworld of High school society keeping to a restricted narrative format that helps to promote a level of uncertainty and intrigue as the audience and Brandon uncover truths in synergy. Admittedly the ‘shock’ plot point at the films conclusion is somewhat guessable, however this doesn’t seem to detract away from the enjoyment of the film itself; it doesn’t proclaim to be a M.Night. Shyamalan film The Sixth Sense and thus it shouldn’t be treated as such. I actually find the end of the film a real point of pathos, as Levitt’s character holds a guarded appearance throughout much of the film and the final moment of realisation brings his character to a level where we as the audience realise his situation inevitably before he does. The dialogue in ‘Brick’ sounds like it has been lifted straight from the pages of a Dashiell Hammett novel mixed with teen and drug related slang, fitting and poetic at times and at others indecipherable- keeping the audience guessing and somewhat still separated from the world that ‘Brick’ is set in. ‘Brick’ works as a modern piece of neo- noir targeted towards an audience that may not have experienced something from the genre before and as such it is a fascinating watch and worth seeing if you fancy something a little unconventional from your typical High school film. -Molly Bennett
ENTRE LES MURS/THE CLASS (2008)
‘Entre les murs’ (or ‘The Class’) is a 2008, Palme d’Or winning, French film about an academic year in a middle school in Paris. The film is filtered through French literature and language teacher François Marin and his difficulty getting a class of early years teens to engage with education. It’s a completely honest and uncompromising exploration of school, the education system and the role of a teacher, written by and starring François Bégaudeau, a former teacher himself.
Generally, I hate slow films. This should have made me shy away from ‘Entre les murs’, a film which is the very antithesis of ‘action packed’. It’s conversation driven and works within a very realistic framework of school life (I seem to recall a 20 minute segment about the proper usage of French verbs). It also never strays from this set up – every shot and scene takes place between the walls (the English translation of the film’s original title) of the school itself. A microcosm of society. Intense, overheating, passionate and exaggerated, yet always that struggle to retain and enforce proper conduct.
Questions of race and class run through the film, maybe not to address them head on, but because in inner city Paris, in those emotional years of puberty and the disenfranchised years of your early 30’s, those issues are inescapable. Especially in school, when you’re most conscious of what systematically separates you from your peers. ‘Entre les murs’ is incredibly authentic. It’s not the tale of a beaten down teacher learning to love life again from a gang of unruly kids. It’s not the story of a committed idealist who wears his heart on his sleeve, teaching lackadaisical teens what really matters. It’s a trudging narrative of a man who works as a teacher and his interactions with kids who’d rather be elsewhere, and the problems that will undoubtedly arise. It’s school. –Ashley Woodvine
GBF (Gay Best Friend) tells the story of two closeted gay friends and their attempts to navigate North Gateway High school in two very different ways; Tanner wants to get through school unnoticed, while Brent is scheming to come out in a big way. However, through a Grindr-esque app related incident, Tanner is publicly, and unwillingly, outed. This catches the attention of the three most popular girls in school, and soon Tanner finds them competing for his attention, as they believe his friendship will clinch them the title of Prom Queen. It all culminates on prom night when Tanner must decide if he’s comfortable just being an accessory for the rest of his life.
I remember when I first heard about GBF, I was quite sceptical much like the rest of the LGBT community. The idea of a film making light of the ‘gay accessory’ issue many of us face kind of made me uncomfortable, but I have to say I am really happy with how it was done. I think the film did a great job of pointing out how ridiculous it is to accessorize another person, and humanizing every stereotype represented in the film.* A major part of this is due to the wonderful casting. From Megan Mullally playing the mom who knows her son is gay and only means well to Evanna Lynch (best known for playing Luna Lovegood) as a bible beating homophobe, it’s apparent the cast treated the roles and the film with respect, and not as cringey sideshow.
Ultimately, the movie is a cute time filler. While it isn’t full of gut-busting laughs, it’s got enough wit and cheeky, gay references (such as Brent’s mother suggesting they watch Shortbus together) to carry it without boring the audience. It’s definitely a movie with replay-ability.
*Author note: While I was not offended with portrayals in the movie, I know a lot of bisexual members of the LGBT community were not happy with how the topic was treated. As I am not a direct member of the bisexual community, I do not feel comfortable making judgements and speaking for them. –Tyler Dziubinski
Get Real is a film that exists in the same strange film world as a lot of films made in the weird late nineties/early noughties universe in which everyone is young, from Hertfordshire or Essex, and uses words like ‘shag’ constantly.
It tells the love story of two gay teenage boys who face a sea of trouble working against them. The homophobic atmosphere in their school and amongst their peers is so intense that they are forced to conduct their courtship in secret, even from its serendipitous beginning in a male public toilet.
The film shows the kind of frustration and anxiety present in same-sex relationships that are lived out in a homophobic school environment, with the added complications of crossing the rigid social hierarchy present in their high school.
While the film does occasionally rely on slightly stale tropes, it’s an engaging insight into the angst and difficulty of being a gay teenage boy in England when there was no WiFi. –Maya-Rose
Could the theme really be School without the High School Musical franchise coming into the conversation? Whether you love it or hate it (if it’s the latter gtfo), High School Musical was everything to my six year old self. From the dancing on the tables in Stick To The Status Quo to Vanessa and Troy’s puppy love in Every Other Goddamn Song, I expected every moment of secondary school to be an exact replica of all the events that occurred in HSM. Unfortunately, reality set in and I was more or less like Sharpay – bitter and totally let-down. Ah well. At least I have Miley Cyrus’ sudden appearance at the end of High School Musical 2 to keep me going. –Sharon Igbokwe
Fact: The Breakfast Club is a coming-of-age classic. Few films surrounding the lives of teenagers can be honest and relatable without making adolescents seem shallow and self-obsessed, yet The Breakfast Club ticks all the boxes that give a movie staying-power:
- John Hughes, who can mix the gloom of teenagehood with all the awesome bits that never happen in teenage life, is a legend in the coming-of-age genre.
- It was made in the 80’s, a pure GOLDMINE for teen films. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off? Fast Times at Ridgemount High? Heathers? Am I not speaking to your heart?
- The plot is also pure gold. The characters and their development as individuals grow naturally throughout their detention, yet make everything they do awesome to watch. Practically every scene, line and act performed in the movie is iconic. –Sharon Ogbokwe
Mona Lisa Smile stars an actress known for her smile- Julia Roberts- as Katherine Watson, a free-spirited and modern woman who accepts an art history teaching position at the prestigious Wellesley College during the 1950’s. The film accurately depicts the ideals of schooling that women held during that time period. For most, it was just a place-holder until you got married. This frustrates Watson, for her students are very bright and are limiting their potential. Women of that time would get their degrees and not do anything with them, ending up as high educated housewives with nothing to do all day except mop the floor and do laundry for the second time (If you read Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique, you will see interviews from exactly those types of women in the 50’s). Katherine’s ahead-of-her-time feminist values and abstract ideas clash up against the traditional viewpoints of the college and make her students question their world. One of the best scenes of the film is when Katherine presents a slideshow of the sexist advertisements (which makes my inner Mad Men fan shriek with joy) of that time, “What will the future scholars see when they study us? A portrait of women today? There you are ladies. The perfect likeness of a Wellesley graduate… A Rhodes Scholar. I wonder if she recites Chaucer while she presses her husband’s shirts.” The wonderful supporting female cast includes Kirsten Dunst, Marcia Gay Harden, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Ginnifer Goodwin. You can also find Lily Rabe and Krysten Ritter in the background as classmates. Mona Lisa Smile is a delightful feminist film that depicts school life in the 1950’s and marks a new-found ideal that women can do more with their minds and education than what society expects of them. –Caroline Madden
Okay, so The Wave only fits the theme of ‘school’ in that it is set inside one. Really, it’s about how a community works – and a school is a small version of this.
The film is about a real-life experiment by Californian teacher Ron Jones, who created a fascist movement within his classroom. While teaching about Nazi Germany, he found his pupils struggled to understand how ordinary people accept a totalitarian regime – so he decided to show them.
He ran exercises emphasising discipline and community. Many of the teenagers not only easily accept the class’s new ethos but rapidly spread it outside the classroom, even cruelly persecuting those who refuse to conform.
The film relocates this experiment to Germany; perhaps to rather heavy-handedly emphasise that events like this have happened in real life, perhaps (according to the speculations of my cynical sociology A-level teacher) because producers believed that US audiences would be unlikely to accept that their fellow Americans would behave in this way.
In real life, Jones halts the experiment and explains to his pupils that their behaviour is similar to that of ordinary Germans in the 1930’s. The film adds a more sensational ending in the hope of creating a more engaging film, yet also loses the story’s prior realism.
While it may lack subtlety, The Wave powerfully demonstrates how easily everyday people can become active members of totalitarian regimes – despite our tendency to retrospectively imagine that we would all have been Anne Franks and Sophie Scholls had we been there. –Molly Kerkham
I am fairly certain that there is not one young adult on Earth that hasn’t seen ‘Mean Girls.’ I’ll also bet that at least ninety per cent of those people have a favourite quote from that movie. Do you know why? Because, simply put, ‘Mean Girls’ is iconic. Now, when I say that it is ‘iconic’, I risk an attack from cinema snobs, as they like to reserve a word such as this for films like ‘Citizen Kane’ and ‘Casablanca.’ Although this may make me even more of a target then I already am; I think it could be argued that ‘Mean Girls’ is the ‘Citizen Kane’ of our generation. It is, by far, one of the best comedies ever made. Focusing almost solely on females, it demonstrates to a wide audience just how funny women can be. Unfortunately, amongst some people, there is an assumption that women simply do not make talented comedians and what I love about this movie is that, refreshingly, this challenges that mindset and shows us that women are full of hilarity and that are more than capable of creating a movie that is not only highly quotable but also highly memorable. It may not exactly be a true representation of high school; but it is an interesting one, nonetheless. Girls can be ruthless, as is shown by Regina George, but they can also be supportive and loving, as we see in the movie’s finale; reminding us that women are not limited to being just one thing. ‘Mean Girls’ is not only of the one most enjoyable films of the 21st century but it is also one that explores the wonderful comedic potential of women. –Hannah Ryan
HOJE EU QUERO VOLTAR SOZINHO/THE WAY HE LOOKS (2014)
High school is an angsty, miserable time and anyone who says otherwise cannot be trusted. That is why I really appreciate films that depict the lives of underdogs and how badly they can be treated in school. Perhaps I appreciate them so much because I was one of the kids at my high school who hid in the art room because they were too scared to eat in the cafeteria, but I digress.
The Way He looks, written and directed by Daniel Ribeiro, is a Brazilian film that follows the life of Leonardo. Along with dealing with the overall struggle of gaining independence from parents and making friends, Leonardo faces being the only blind student at his school. Although he has his good friend Giovana literally at his side at all times, he still gets picked on by the most annoying bully named Fabio (actually though, the entire time I was watching the film I wanted to reach into the screen and sock him in the face). What makes things even harder is that Leonardo wants to so desperately find someone he can connect with romantically. All hope seems lost until Gabriel, a new student, joins Leonardo’s class. From that point on, Leonardo experiences excitement due to gaining a new prospect, as well as disappointment after believing he’ll be left with an unrequited love.
What I love about this film is that it is so honest, genuine, and able to capture the multiple emotions that one feels in high school. I also feel like there aren’t enough LGBTQ films that revolve around high school, so it’s refreshing to experience Leonardo’s perspective. This film is actually an extended version of a short film, which I fell in love with first. Obviously there are differences plot-wise, but I liked this version just as much. Even though I would never want to relive high school, this film reminded me that, despite the pain and angst, I met a few people who made it not so bad. –Cristina Vazquez de Mercado
We all know of the formulaic ‘makeover’ movie, like She’s All That or Jawbreaker, where usually ‘geeky’ girls are given a makeover in order to secure their place in the hot guy’s eyeline and hearts. The DUFF comes in like a wrecking ball, throws the papers in the sky and says ‘you know what, FUCK THAT’. Starring the magnificent and eyebrow-life-goals BAE that is Mae Whitman as Bianca, your typical cool girl in dungarees who likes old monster movies. Apparently, these qualities make her a ‘DUFF’, the Designated Ugly Fat Friend, among her peer group as jock friend Wes tells her. It is later explained to Bianca that being a DUFF doesn’t actually necessarily mean you are Ugly or Fat but you are the one in the group that makes everyone else look good.
Making a deal with Wes to tutor him in favour for making her ‘cool’, Bianca is thrown into a myriad of montage scenes of her trying on various outfits, grinding on mannequins and trying to make out with them, which is all recorded on video, and used to ruin her reputation. Being the powerful, no-quit girl that she is, this doesn’t stop her and she secures her date with dreamy guitar guy Toby. Not to spoil the plot, but obviously there is a huge bump in the road after this part that makes Bianca realise who her true friends were in the first place. Bianca also realises, and proclaims at homecoming, in a kick ass outfit, that everyone is somebodies DUFF, and it doesn’t matter, because everyone brings their own unique qualities to a friendship. I wish someone had told me that in school. –Chloe Leeson
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