The life of a teenager is an angst filled reality filled with torment and pathos. Relationships have the specter of Shakespearian drama while life itself is a problematic mystery weighing down on undeveloped shoulders ill-equipped to marshal the yoke of existential heft. Add to this the horrific condition that is high school and you have a platform for story telling of the utmost order that is ceaselessly entertaining…if you are a teenager.
I don’t mean to belittle their challenges or marginalize their anxieties, but without the proper perspective of experience it becomes tiresome to listen to teens caterwaul over the rather conventional challenges of life. The cover art proclaims that, “Some voices need to be heard”, yet the makers couldn’t seem to find those that “needed” hearing and instead gathered whichever ones they could find.
Joe Gillis brings us through a series of glimpses into the real life of a high school, completely random and scattershot vignettes that are supposed to underscore the burden of being young. Imagine showing up one day at a high school you have never been to previous, not knowing any of the student body, and then trying to get involved into their social scene. Imagine caring about Greg and his math test, about whether Tina will make friends. Well imagine no more. Gillis gives us a candid look at youth, and he uses the strictest definition of the word, recording not just the dramas of adolescence but also—make that mostly–the mundanity.
Before the credits we have a long exploration of one girl’s desire to study while she is badgered by her lab partner to make-out. Another too long sketch is about a lad who annoys a buddy with his new desire to speak only in Elizabethan prose. The standout scene is of another gangly pubescent who drives up to the cameraman and in one take gives a long expository on his experience as a Wal-Mart Santa. This was counter balanced by an extremely brief shot of guy at his locker and someone walks by saying, “Sorry”. For what? How come? Who was that!? No time for an explanation, we have to hurry on to more random rhetoric.
There were more gripping portions, but only because less gripping would be a near unachievable feat. Early on there is a hint at one student having a drinking problem, but like all else it is given passing mention and therefore left to wilt, as is. Late in the game we get one girl who confesses to prostitution on a recent trip to California, but it rings false and we fail to care.
My favorite was the scene shot from a video in the guidance counselor’s office, where one depressed brooder gives epic detail to his suicide attempt, without telling why he is so morose. After telling how his brother found him in time he says he was glad to be rescued, now apparently cured. You may call me callous for grinning, but this mope weaves his dark life story while decked out in a Ralph Lauren polo shirt with coordinated chinos, so I had a chore in delving too deeply into his tortured yet well-funded realm.
I was fortunate enough to pick up on this trait of adolescents while I was one myself. I do not intend to illustrate myself to being supremely sophisticated compared to my high school contemporaries—I was so adrift at that age that listening to The Dead Milkmen actually helped me get a bearing. But witnessing fellow students who would elevate otherwise circadian annoyances to DefCom 4 levels while living a pampered middle-class-or-better lifestyle was more than I could bear. I was messed up, but I take it as a point of pride that I recognized no one else was captivated with my tale of woe centered on the hot red-head in second hour who wouldn’t talk to me because I couldn’t afford a Benneton Colors wardrobe.
This film is based on a play of the same name and clearly this was the best realm in which it should exist. A stage production written for and performed by teens would make this a more tolerable exercise–it seems a perfect vehicle on which young actors can cut their teeth. However for a film viewer these mewling novices to this rich pageant amount to hot-house flowers prone to carping about garden variety problems. You can learn just as much on any given weekend by sitting in a shopping mall food court for fifteen minutes—and even that is probably ten minutes longer than you can tolerate.