Warning: This review may contain traces of spoilers, and may have come into contact with spoilers from other movies.
Whether or not you enjoy High School (emphasis on the HIGH) will depend largely on whether or not you appreciate the stoner comedy genre of film in general. Watching movies of this nature, I often find myself wondering if they would be significantly improved had I consumed some marijuana, and whether or not the filmmakers intended their audience to be completely stoned in the first place. I had the privilege of seeing this film at Fantasia Fest in Montreal, with the screenwriter in attendance, and before the show he did say “Those of you in the audience who got high before coming will think this movie is totally brilliant.” This tells you much of what you need to know about the film.
High School is the story of Henry Burke (Matt Bush), a kid in his final year at Morgan HS, who wants nothing more than to be valedictorian and go to MIT following his graduation. Things go awry, however, when he smokes some pot with his friend Travis Breaux (Sean Marquette, who looks like a young Jeremy Piven) and then discovers, to his horror, that the school principal is planning a school-wide drug test the following day. All students who are found to have smoked pot recently will be expelled. Terrified at the prospect of being flunked, Burke runs to Breaux looking for a plan, and Breaux hatches one in a hurry: get the entire school high by swapping the bake sale brownies with spiked ones. If everyone fails the test, they can’t flunk out the whole school, right?
Turns out this is easier said than done, as Burke and Breaux first need to obtain some extremely strong marijuana concentrate (pure THC crystals known as “keef”) from an insane drug dealer named Psycho Ed, played brilliantly by Adrien Brody. Things rapidly descend into madness from there.
High School manages to achieve an interesting balancing act, for watching it one can easily spot all the places that the script was trimmed to fit it into a 90 minute running time. Plot elements are introduced and never followed up on, and some things, such as Burke’s romantic longings for Sharky (Alicia Sixtos) the girl next door feel particularly underdeveloped. But these shortcomings are balanced out by many terrific, laugh-out-loud moments as the teachers, staff and students of Morgan HS get extremely blazed. The supporting cast of this film all put in great performances that are guaranteed to bring a smile to your face. Highlights (see what I did there?) include Colin Hanks dancing around his office throwing Cheez-its in the air ecstatically, Yeardley Smith fantasizing about Bryan Adams’ member in front of her computer science class, and Michael Chicklis’ incredible turn as the perverted and evil Principal Gordon. In fact, Chicklis is so good that I guarantee that if I hadn’t told you just now that he was playing the principal, you wouldn’t have known it was him until the end!
And, of course, there’s Adrien Brody. The guy is just brilliant as Psycho Ed, red-eyed, tattooed and twitchy, gritting his teeth and talking to his pet frog. Needless to say, he completely steals the show.
From a technical standpoint, the movie is well put-together, and the soundtrack is great. There’s even a Jon Lajoie song featured, which made everyone in my theatre laugh approvingly.
Watching High School, I was reminded of another independant stoner comedy from recent years: Growing Op. Both films have a lot going for them; they’re funny and smart, and have some really terrific moments. However, both films also suffer from a very disjointed narrative that leaps from place to place without much set up. It’s a trade-off – if you can overlook the plot problems, you’ll have a great time with it. I suspect it only gets better if you imbibe a few intoxicants beforehand, but even sober, this film is better than a lot of comedies coming out of Hollywood lately.
3.5 out of 5