Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Movie with Abe: Selah and the Spades

Selah and the Spades
Directed by Tayarish Poe
Released April 17, 2020

High school can be hard for even the smartest and most socially well-adjusted teenagers. The pressures of success can lead to tremendous stress, and that doesn’t take into account cliques and drama. Boarding schools create a contained environment where that can all be amplified, opening the door to more opportunities and also more potential pitfalls. School life can feel like what teenagers assume real life will be, with distinct groups forming to exert control over commerce and communication. Such scenarios have been adapted into many films across various genres showcasing the wild and often cutthroat antics of taking the wrong parts of high school way too seriously.

Selah (Lovie Simone), along with Maxxie (Jharrel Jerome), leads the Spades, one of the five “factions” at Haldwell, a boarding school in Pennsylvania. She rules with an iron fist, intolerant of disloyalty and always eager to stay one step ahead of her rivals, especially the ambitious Bobby (Ana Mulvoy Ten). When a new student, Paloma (Celeste O’Connor), arrives, Selah takes her under her wing, transforming her from amateur photographer to formidable second-in-command. Selah’s strict attitude and her mistrust of others threatens her reign, forcing her to confront the consequences of her actions and the reality of her fast-approaching future beyond the walls of Haldwell.

This film starts with style, as narration explains the structure of Haldwell and just who Selah is in the scheme of things. Selah is a force of nature, unintimidated by those who try to tell her that she’s not in control or, worse, that she’s making the wrong call. Maxxie represents a more relatable ally who is committed to his friend and partner but far less willing to leave others behind in his pursuit of power. Paloma is innocent but susceptible, drawn in by the allure of acceptance offered to her by Selah and others. Bobby, the most visible presence from among the other factions, feels much more artificial, but that’s merely because she’s not the focus of the film. While these can hardly represent all the archetypes of students that exist, it’s a great sample that works very well in this context.

Simone delivers an incredible breakout turn, imbuing Selah with an uncompromising personality and making her layered by showing her vulnerabilities when she does let her defenses down. Jerome, an Emmy winner for his superb turn in “When They See Us,” plays well opposite her as an amiable enforcer who prefers being liked to being feared. O’Connor impressively rounds out the lead cast as the lone main character who hasn’t been drawn into this world and might have some hope of escaping it before being completely indoctrinated. This film, which premiered at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival in the NEXT section, is an energetic and appealing cinematic story that may remind audiences of some part of their own experiences in high school and will surely delight and intrigue them even if that’s not the case.


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