Friday, April 17, 2020

Review: Selah and the Spades

Release date: April 17, 2020
Running time: 97 minutes
Starring:  Lovie Simone, Jharrel Jerome, Celeste O'Connor

Selah and the Spades is about a group of kids in a prestigious private boarding school.  Being a boarding school, the kids live away from their parents and form complicated social groups.  This school has five different cliques / clubs that run the social scene.  They have a tenuous alliance between themselves and meet regularly to make sure that the balance is maintained.  However, they also self police if something goes wrong.  Selah (Simone) along with her friend Maxxie (Jerome) run the Spades.  When newcomer Paloma (O'Connor) gets close to Selah, her tight knit organization begins to form some kinks.  

Selah and the Spades seems to be trying to showcase female empowerment, which is always a good thing.  There is a scene at the beginning where the cheer leading squad talks about how they make their own rules, no one tells them what outfits to wear or how long or shirt to keep their skirts.  They can control all of this.  I really liked this type of a message, I just wish it was propagated throughout the film.  After this, the empowerment message does show up in less overt fashion, most notably in Selah herself.  Selah is the boss of the spades but there is never any statement about her being female or black.  She runs the faction with a relatively iron fist, meets out punishment when it has to happen, and no one questions her.  There are never any comments about her being female, she just runs the faction and everyone falls in line.  It was refreshing to have a movie with strong female minority characters that don't have to constantly point out that they are female and climbing the ladder.  They just are at the top and no one questions that.  

Unfortunately, Selah and the Spades just isn't a very interesting movie.  It has a sort of Wes Anderson vibe at the start where the factions are introduced in a profiled type of manner.  But after that, not much happens.  Everything is understated, which leads to the story just not progressing with much urgency.  And when big events are supposed to happen, it is tough to really feel much emotion because of this understatement. Part of this might have been the understated music in the film; it was great in some scenes but often it would fade away or not be prevalent.  Additionally, the film went out of its way to keep a mellow tone throughout.  For example, when someone gets beaten up to collect a debt, it isn't really shown.  There is no gravity to the actions, just some people approaching and afterwards the person has a few cuts on their face.  And, none of the consequences seem to be of much consequence because of the secluded, sheltered nature of this private school.  Nothing grand happens, no big events occur.  And when something seems like a big issue to the kids, it is hard to empathize with them because the problems that the kids are experiencing seem so inconsequential and the film neither impresses the gravity of the situation to you.  And for some weird reason, this movie is rated R despite it not dealing with many adult subjects and being set in a boarding school with problems that only kids would have.  In the end, the movie just doesn't seem to have much to say.  

There is a lot to love about this film.  It has interesting cinematography and a lovingly built world.  And I loved the female leads and the fact that many of the main characters were both female and minority, but the movie itself doesn't do enough to really pique your interest.  I applaud this film for having strong female and minority main characters, but Selah and the Spades really doesn't have much to say other than its understated tone and strong main characters.

Pass on it.

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