Over the last few years, the teen comedy has gone through a radical change. Thanks to films like Superbad and Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist, the teen comedy is going back to the roots of John Hughes by going the route of Judd Apatow. The new teen comedy High School is looking to be the film that manages to do both instead of one or the other. Basically a film for anyone who spent the better part of their high school days being high on drugs, High School actually manages to have a lot of laughs along the way.
Henry Burke (Matt Bush) is one of the top students at Morgan High School. He is essentially a genius, with ambitions of going to MIT. His old friend Travis Broux (Sean Marquette) has become a flat-out stoner, someone who lives life to the fullest. After spending an afternoon in detention together, Travis suckers him in to smoking marijuana with him. Although good times have been had in rekindling this old friendship over marijuana, a crisis arises the next day when the principal of the school decides to drug test every student in the school. This comes about when the school’s star spelling bee champion was caught being high during the most recent competition. The principal (played devilishly well by Michael Chiklis, with an ugly hairpiece to boot) has already issued the ultimatum: Anyone who fails the drug test will be immediately expelled. Henry is freaking out, fearing that his dream of going to MIT will be tarnished forever. But Travis has an idea. If you can’t beat the test, then let everyone else suffer by getting the whole school high. The reasoning Travis gives makes a lot of sense: If everyone fails, then the results will be thrown out.
Then it gets complicated. Travis decides to go to his drug dealer Psycho Ed (Adrien Brody in a very funny performance) to steal a marijuana drug stronger than anything else on the market. From there, they place a whole bunch of it inside the brownies that Henry and Travis make. Now the plan is simple: Switch out the brownies that the PTA is delivering with their own for the bake sale and the whole student body will be so high that they will never know what hit them. But when the faculty and the student board get a hold of it, all hell is about to break loose.
The plot only describes about the first 40 minutes of the film, but even during that section as well as everything that comes after is actually full of terrific comic invention. The best joke in the entire film comes early though during an anti-drug film. By painting the portrait that the Taliban would only attack if they were high, this is supremely chancy and hilarious stuff. Although the rest of the movie never quite reaches that same height, the film has many other gems hidden throughout its “stash” (pardon the expression). Yeardley Smith (Lisa from “The Simpsons”) and Curtis Armstrong (Charles DeMar from Better Off Dead…) actually have moments that shine when they get a hold of the brownies themselves. One bit from Smith that has been featured in the red band trailer continues to stay funny even in the context of the actual film.
As you can see, High School is a film that is actually funny for most of the way through, but the main problem I had with the film is that at times, the film so obviously wants to be a Judd Apatow film, it feels like an obnoxious knock-off. In other words, any time the film tries to develop a heart, it comes off badly. I haven’t even mentioned the girl who Henry has had a crush on all of his life. She is barely developed, and by the time the big moment of this subplot begins to play out, it doesn’t really feel like it’s been earned. If she had actually been developed to some actual extent, I would’ve forgiven it for such, but as she is presented, she feels more like an object rather than an actual character.
As for the other performances however, they are spot on, and the movie is very funny as a result. Michael Chiklis in particular comes off in a performance like we have never seen before, as does Colin Hanks (Boy, his father must be wondering what he saw in this, and that’s in all fairness to the material, not to the movie itself), who comes off so unlike his character in Orange County that it’s nearly revolutionary as a result. Even the new actors on the scene like Marquette and Bush are top-flight in their portrayals of the possible valedictorian and stoner. They are perfectly cast. But the one who does the best work here is Adrien Brody, who is hilarious as the drug dealer. I’ve never seen Brody do a role like this before, and he absolutely steals every scene that he has throughout the whole movie. His performance is the film’s best.
I went into High School with extremely low expectations. A movie with a plot like this shouldn’t work, but it does, and it does on the strength of its performances. Sure, there are areas where it can be improved, but this is one teen comedy that is funny more often than not. I have no idea how wide Anchor Bay Films is releasing this stoner comedy, but I’m here to tell you that if you want to laugh and if it’s playing near you, then this is one comedy that is worth seeing. I don’t know if this is a cult classic in the making, but it’s certainly enjoyable.