Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Higher Ed Review: A Throwback All Black Higher Learning Comedy

Release date: September 7, 2021
Running time: 74 minutes
Written and Directed by: Jean-Claude LaMarre
Cast: Pras from the Grammy® Award-winning Fugees,  Aries Spears, Hill Harper, and Leila Arcieri 

Higher Ed follows the trials and travails of a young man from the hood forced to skip town and enroll in college when he crosses the local sadistic drug dealer.  With a full course load, a roommate who’s up to no good and Mexican gangsters sniffing around, anything can and does happen in this broad comedy that may – or may not – go up in smoke.

Higher Ed is a classic comedy and it feels that way.  It is a blast from the past with an old school look and feel.  Even though it is only twenty years old, it definitely feels like a film from a different time.  And this comedy must have been impactful at the time, a mostly black cast in a film that both celebrates higher education and bettering yourself without vilifying drug culture seems like something that was not common when this was created.  And the film does have a large cast of quirky characters that cover pretty much every stereotype you would expect, and a host of strange situations.  The comedy is hit or miss but it does have plenty of moments of levity.  I did enjoy seeing Pras as the main character, and Aries Spears was a lot of fun as his unlikely roomate and unofficial mentor.  And I did have a blast seeing the mannerisms and fashions from twenty years ago back on screen.   

However, despite the intriguing prospect of having Pras and a mostly black cast, the film just doesn't seem to have a ton of great comedic moments.  Maybe this is just due to the age, but I didn't find myself laughing as much as I would have hoped.  It is possible that the humor wasn't meant to speak to me, so it was tougher to relate to it, but overall most of the jokes either fell flat or seemed to be drawn from stereotypes.  I'm not going to knock the film or the writer as this is an older one so it makes sense that some aspects of comedy would have changed, but then again the film is being released now so will be judged by modern standards.  Higher Ed also has a decidedly budget feel, from the fact that it looks like a lower resolution transfer, to the audio issues that pop up (with voices being muffled or not the same level as other voices or sections of the scene), this film looks and feels like an older budget movie.  And finally, the story of Higher Ed just doesn't have much drive to it.  It is a strange college story but one that just seems like a series of random encounters that don't come together until the very end.  

Higher Ed features some quirky characters and strange, throwback situations, as well as a lead performance by Pras, and feels like a blast from the past for all the good and bad reasons.

Rent it.

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Higher Ed is available on DVD, digitally, and on demand on September 7, 2021.  

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