High School Record
directed by By Ben Wolfinsohn
starring Becky Stark, Dean Spunt, Jenna Thornhill
“It seems like everyone in High School is really superficial.” Can’t argue with that statement after viewing this low energy documentary of a year at a West Coast high school that captures the social awkwardness and focus on appearance that fills so many teens’ lives. The anchor of this institution of higher preening is the batty drama teacher, Ms. Farewell (Stark). She’s always dressed for an open mic night, plays guitar badly, and offers up platitudes and reassurance but little pedagogy. In a series of interwoven episodes, we follow several of the students in this nearly empty school as they fall in and out of love and wrestle with the biggest issue of adolescence – “Will I have sex and how exactly does it work?”
Caleb (Spunt) is the geeky thinker. He epoxies his hair because “cool kids in London are doing it,” spazzes out with an iPod, and lusts after Sabrina (Thornhill). She’s on the swim team and no fashion plate, but she tries to get it on in the locker room with Eddie (Bobby Sandoval). He smokes and swears and works on cars, and the dramatic high point of this film is his conflict with Caleb over possession of Sabrina. They almost raise their voices at each other. The weirdest performance comes from Eddy’s Father (J. Mitchell Simon). He’s the school janitor and seems a half-witted, semi-violent loser straight out of a Devo video.
High School Record wanders about campus, giving occasional giggles but never any real sense of investment in the story or students. I wonder about the mysterious androgynous guy with the microphone – if this is seriously a documentary, we never get much idea if it’s his project, or if he’s just helping, or even why this was filmed. There are some outtakes, and they offer more entertainment value the main film. Ms. Farewell is pulled out of class and cuffed for “contributing to the degeneracy of a minor” with no explanation of her crime. The only thing that might come close to deserving this punishment is a rather open talk about sex with Sabrina and another girl, both of whom were probably doing it already and in need of a bit of adult advice. Beyond that, we have a 90-minute film that documents a small set of moderately well-balanced teens in a seriously under-crowded high school.
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