DAILY FILM DOSE: A Daily Film Appreciation and Review Blog: High School - Toronto After Dark Film Festival 2010

Monday 16 August 2010

High School - Toronto After Dark Film Festival 2010

High School (2010) dir. John Stalberg
Starring: Adrien Brody, Michael Chiklis, Colin Hanks, Matt Bush and Sean Marquette


By Greg Klymkiw

Okay, I'm going to say it - loud and clear: High School is the best stoner comedy I have ever seen! Well, it's not better than Terry Gilliam's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, but that's in a different category altogether - its own category of unfettered insanity and genius. High School is, however, the first picture to unseat the Grand Daddy of them all - Up in Smoke - and that's saying a lot! I mean, God Bless you Mr. Marin and Mr. Chong, you broke the ground and held the crown for decades, but the time comes for all great men, to yield their loftiness to others.

Director John Stalberg with his co-writers Erik Linthorst and Stephen Susco have crafted a no-holds-barred hilarious ode to weed and what's so perfect is that their script is exquisitely simple - a solid little coat hanger to adorn with as many laugh-getters as possible. In fact, the movie is so crammed with great gags that sprout quite naturally from the simple narrative that the movie does get a bit tiring (though not tiresome) at the two-thirds mark, but it recovers nicely to deliver a one-two knockout punch.

In the time honoured tradition of the bro-mantic comedy, Matt Bush and Sean Marquette play two Grade 12 students who used to be thicker than water in their junior years, but have been estranged for some time - Bush becoming a science geek and on the verge of an MIT scholarship and Marquette, a loveable loser with no ambitions save for attaining and maintaining the ultimate weed high.

They re-meet-cute when they almost crash head-on into each other's cars. Their unrequited bro-love rekindles faster than a bong high. Marquette introduces Bush to the joys of the devil's weed - just a day before Michael Chiklis as the nasty-pants Principal institutes a zero-tolerance policy with respect to drugs and mounts an evil plan to force every student in his high school to take a drug test - and if the results are positive, the student will receive immediate expulsion. Needless to say, Bush wasn't expecting this during his finals and a yellow brick road leading to MIT.

But never fear, Marquette has a great trick up his sleeve. They manage to pilfer some pure crystals of THC, spend all night making killer brownies and the next morning, swap them with all the brownies on the Bake Sale table. (Uh, I don't believe I conjured Swift, Beckett or Wilde at all - snap out of your stoner groove and please recall I cited Cheech and Chong.)

The rest of the movie occasionally deals with the plot (as it were), but mostly, we get pure, unadulterated hilarity as the entire school succumbs to the brownies and the entire faculty and student body gets so over-the-top stoned that everyone who takes the drug test will score positive during the drug test and Chiklis won't be able to expel the entire school.

And that's pretty much all she wrote. We get a full hour watching everyone in the school stumble around stoned.

Stalberg's direction is terrific. The comic timing is impeccable and his mise en scene in terms of capturing the POV of the effects of the THC crystal brownies is not only endowed with capturing the various stoner moments perfectly, but always doing so in a manner that seems rooted in the film's narrative (such, I'll admit, as it is). That said, it's no scattershot ZAZ comedy a la Airplane, but every beautifully written gag is set-up, blocked and built-up to deliver both comedy and forward narrative thrust with near perfection.

The performances are first rate. Bush and Marquette play off of each other delightfully, while Chiklis's insufferably nasty (and hilarious) school principal seriously rivals Mary Woronov as uber-principal Miss Togar in Rock n' Roll High School. Colin Hanks as the hapless, likeable vice principal is as deft and funny as Daddy Tom was - back in the days when Daddy Tom was genuinely funny on screen (in contrast to Daddy Tom's funny haircut in that Dan Brown movie adaptation - the name of which I have successfully repressed).

The performance to end all performances comes from Oscar-winner Adrien Brody as the psychotic drug pusher Ed. (I love the idea of a pusher called "Ed". In fact, in high school, MY connection's name was "Ed", so there you go.) And allow me to add yet another proclamation: Adrien Brody embodies COOLER-THAN-COOL. During the past year, Brody has starred in three movies I genuinely loved - movies that epitomized cool. First, Brody fucks his lab-created-half-amphibian-daughter while Mom/wife Sarah Polley watches in Splice, then - nicely buff - he kicks alien ass in the fun and solid Predators and now, as a drooling, vicious, perpetually stoned and gloriously tattooed drug dealer in High School, he delivers three (count 'em!) performances in thoroughly unpretentious movies that still manage to rival his very own Oscar winning work in The Pianist. Adrien Brody rocks bigtime! Not only did he appear post-Oscar in the only Wes Anderson picture I genuinely like (The Darjeeling Limited), but he makes three pictures back-to-back where he lets down his hair and delivers totally fun performances.

Methinks Mr. Brody is out-Johnny-Depping Johnny Depp!!!

He is cool!

Mr. Cool!

High School premiered earlier in 2010 at the Sundance Film Festival, but it is currently without a North American distributor. Thanks to the Toronto After Dark Film Festival, a sellout house at the cavernous Bloor Cinema experienced one of the best comedies of the year. Why this picture wasn't snapped up immediately is beyond me. As far as gross-out bro-mances go, it's miles above all the rest.

And lest we forget, High School is the best stoner comedy of all time!

I can prove it too. Feel free to sniff my pants. I laughed so hard I soiled them mightily.

For the rest of this week's amazing schedule, be sure to click HERE.

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