Tag Archives: high school

The Kissing Booth 3

The last installment in the popular Kissing Booth trilogy catches up with our young protagonists just after high school graduation.

The Premise: In the first two films, we established that Elle (Joey King) and Lee (Joel Courtney) were a couple of besties who had a list of very strict rules, including the most important of the bunch: do not date my older brother. So of course Elle falls for Lee’s older brother, Noah (Jacob Elordi). Now that they’ve been together a while and Elle has managed to juggle both a relationship with her bestie Lee and a romance with his brother Noah, she’s got this summer to make a really big decision: go to college in Boston with Noah, or in California with Lee. The stress of choosing disrupts her ‘perfect last summer,’ leaving both brothers ultimately disappointed. What to do?

The Verdict: We’ve all grown up a little since the first Kissing Booth (which actually had a Kissing Booth in it) debuted way back in 2018. It was a simpler time. We were innocent then. Kissing booths didn’t automatically trigger virus phobias. This, however, marks the end of an era. Elle’s not just faced with a tough decision but a harsh reality: up until this point in the trio of films, her life has been guided by the whims and inclinations of two dashing, dueling brothers. It’s time for her to assert herself and figure out her own path – whether or not it includes the Flynn boys – or another boy from her past who is mad handsome as well. These movies are flighty pieces of improbable teenage romance. How can they afford a summer so jam-packed with epic activities, especially after it began with a road trip and will end, potentially, with a bill from Harvard? Who would trust a bunch of teenagers with a beach house for the summer? Who’s insuring their vintage muscle cars and motor bikes? Yes, I have questions and concerns, but if these movies are to be enjoyed, you simply take them as they are, not even blinking when someone pulls up in a goddamned yacht but simply appreciating the easy grace with which literally everything falls into their laps. Farewell, kissing booth, possibly COVID’s ground zero, and a career launcher for Ms. Joey King.

The Honor List

Once upon a time, four girls were best friends in high school. Like many young friendships, these four grew apart, drifting in different directions by senior year. But only 3 of them make it to graduation. Honor (Arden Cho) dies of an illness she kept from them, and leaves behind final wishes that they should retrieve the time capsule they once buried together and complete the bucket list found inside.

Piper (Meghan Rienks) is a popular girl (translation: mean girl) now, a party girl for whom the party never stops thanks to a water bottle filled with vodka that’s never not in hand. Isabella (Sasha Pieterse) is a social crusader, fierce in her beliefs, but vulnerable at home where her parents are divorcing acrimoniously. Sophie (Karrueche Tran) is the image of perfection, a straight A student and president of the virginity club, which she founded herself (and named only slightly more creatively). Even before we get to know their history through flashbacks, there are some pretty solid reasons why these young women might have grown apart. But grief is a powerful motivator and they resolve to complete the list, for better or worse.

High school is hard enough without throwing grief and guilt into the mix, and the movie is at its best when it’s dealing with these realities subtly with great character work from a cast who is actually (surprisingly) competent. But the tasks on the bucket list are wacky enough to be sitcom material, awkwardly ripe for trauma, painfully devoid of laughs. Their friendship is to be miraculously repaired through hardship even though it can equally be said that that’s what ripped it apart in the first place. Director Elissa Down confronts some jarring shifts in tone without enough of a plan, so even her good intentions can be sloppily offered.

The Honor List doesn’t live up to its name but is just watchable enough if you’re really jonesing for a potential tearjerker with a subplot of empowerment.

To All The Boys: P.S. I Still Love You

Lara Jean and Peter are officially girlfriend and boyfriend.

You may recall in the first film, Lara Jean’s little sister sent out a bunch of love letters that she’d been writing to her crushes to release some of your tortured young passion. The love letters were personal and confessional and never meant to be read by anyone, but most of all not by the people to whom they were addressed. And yet they were.

Which brought Lara Jean (Lana Condor) and Peter (Noah Centineo) together, superficially at first. They pretended to date because they each had certain needs their high school hearts could justify but you might guess that they eventually found themselves falling in love. Cue the sequel!

Everything is right with the world, except for the fact that Lara Jean can’t quite forget Peter’s ex and jealousy doesn’t exactly become her. But there are worse things to come. One of the other love letter recipients finally resurfaces: John Ambrose (Jordan Fisher) and man is he cute. In fact, he and Lara Jean end up volunteering together and circumstances are perfect for dying embers to reignite.

There’s a sweet innocence to these movies that holds some sort of universal appeal – perhaps because we’ve all had a first love and not only can we relate, but it’s sort of fun to revisit. But we also get wrapped up in Lara Jean and Peter’s romance because it’s a lived fairy tale. How does Peter have money to take dates to 5-star restaurants and why does Lara Jean have a series of cocktail dresses? They’re babies. They should be going on awkward group dates to the movies, getting dropped off by whomever’s mom had the biggest mini van, or hanging out in each other’s living rooms with their siblings not only watching but actively trying to humiliate.

Anyway, I’m finding it impossible not to be charmed by this franchise. The leads are exceedingly likable and the whole thing goes down as easily as a box of chocolates on Valentine’s day, so why resist? To All The Boys is one indulgence I’m not going to feel guilty about.



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A trio of high school girls. Already it sounds like trouble, doesn’t it?

Bad girl Melissa (Nadia Alexander) arrives to disrupt the cozy duo of Ellie and Sophie. Melissa’s influence is immediate on Sophie – well, on both, since Ellie is quick to distance herself from Melissa’s cruelty. A fourth student’s arrival makes an even bigger stir. After a 6 month absence (psych ward stay, it’s rumoured), Abigail (Quinn Shephard) walks the halls, eyes downcast. Melissa senses prey, and the bullying is brutal and relentless. Slut or psycho, there’s no consensus, so both slurs are hurled her way on a regular basis.

Their drama class is studying The Crucible thanks to a new substitute teacher, Mr. Woods (Chris Messina). The parallels between the play and the plot of the film are hard to miss MV5BZjZiMjdiZGEtNTA5NS00NDBhLTlkZGEtMWY4ZGQ0NzEyNDNlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMTYyMDk1MjU@._V1_SY1000_SX1500_AL_with the ostracizing and vilification of Abigail. Mr. Woods sees a lot of quiet talent in Abigail, and his singling her out for praise and attention only drives Melissa to more cruelty. But it’s ice to see Abigail being appreciated by someone, even if it’s her teacher. Until it’s her teacher’s, um, lips doing the appreciating, and that becomes problematic. Mostly for Melissa, oddly, who is insane with jealousy. To be clear, Melissa has every guy in school running after her, and she doesn’t want Mr. Woods. She just doesn’t want Abigail to have anything except Melissa-inflicted misery. And maybe she can’t stand to have anyone choose someone besides her. You’d have to invent a word above self-involved for the likes of Melissa.

Nadia Alexander is all kinds of hateful in this part. Melissa is perhaps not without her motivations, but Alexander is unwavering in her snarl and sadism. Quinn Shephard is also very confident and comfortable in Abigail’s skin, as she should be as she directs herself in a role she co-wrote.

Blame uses familiar high school movie tropes to construct a larger framework. Shephard uses the imagery and inspiration from The Crucible to build Blame to a heightened emotional intensity. We may not always know what it is, but it’s clear that danger lurks ahead. Abigail begins to identify more and more with her fictional counterpart, and it’s fascinating to watch her wardrobe transform as a result, her clothes reflecting both the puritanical and the temptress, and then to see the other girls’ outfits start to compete, heels getting higher, hemlines getting shorter. Only Ellie serves as a link to the audience and our growing discomfort. Chris Messina does an exceptional job with a tricky character. Mr. Woods clearly makes some bad decisions but Messina doesn’t brand him a predator. His girlfriend thinks he’s a loser so of course he puffs up under Abigail’s admiration and devotion. It makes him weak. And the girls, they perform, and I don’t just mean the Arthur Miller. I mean their sexuality is performative. Largely inexperienced, they project sophistication beyond their means, competing with one another for things they don’t fully understand yet, and may not even want. Placing The Crucible within hallowed high school halls makes it clear it belonged there all along.

Candy Jar

Lona and Bennett have been rivals their entire high school careers. In their senior year, with Lona (Sami Gayle) applying to Harvard and Bennett (Jacob Latimore) gunning for Yale, the pressure on them to do well is enormous, and they are dismayed to learn that as debate co-champions and debate co-presidents, debate isn’t going to give either of them the edge over the other. And while their ambitions drive them on, their respective mothers may hold them back. His (Uzo Adubo) is an affluent, accomplished state senator, and hers (Christina Hendricks) is a single mother with three jobs and a chip on her shoulder. And of course they too were once high school rivals.

I wondered if Candy Jar was going to do for debate what Pitch Perfect did for glee club: it’s not. First of all, debate club sucks. Clearly things have changed since I was in high Candy-Jarschool. Apparently debate is now mostly loud, fast shouting. Like auctioneer fast. The arguments are spit out in such a high-speed string that they are not even distinguishable. So it’s really not all that fun to watch. As in, not remotely fun, so I wonder if the director just invented the fast pace in order to basically fast forward the most boring parts of his movie. Which is not exactly a vote of confidence, is it?

Meanwhile, their guidance counselor (Helen Hunt) is more concerned about them getting dates and going to school dances and other borderline creepy things than about their academic futures. Basically, these two are co-champions on paper but co-losers in life.

The cast is pretty solid and I’m particularly happy to see Uzo Adubo go from Crazy Eyes to State Senator. Girl is versatile! And while the kids have important lessons to learn about disappointment and loss and perspective (and perhaps their parents even more so), it feels like director Ben Shelton lacks a specific vision. If you’re going to contribute to the vast oeuvre of high school movies, maybe try not to suck so much. Well, suck is a harsh word. Bland is probably more accurate, but nearly as damning, I think.

Also, for the record, Sean suffered a personal disappointment when he discovered the movie to be titled Candy Jar and not Cookie Jar. So we’re holding that against it too.

The Outcasts

Jodi and Mindy are a couple of … nerds? geeks? kids who just don’t fit in? But they do have each other, which is not quite enough when their high school’s resident Mean Girl pulls a nasty prank. They vow to get even, and their brilliant plan involves uniting all the school’s Great Unwashed – every band geek, gamer, stoner, and whoever else resides on the outskirts of the Popular Clique. The popular gang only exists because the rest of the outsiders are fractured. Put them all on the same team and suddenly they’re the dominant group. Whoa, reversal! Will high school ever be the same again?

5x3tw-Y6XMQG2KXH5-Full-Image_GalleryBackground-en-US-1490285390734._RI_SX940_Jodi (Victoria Justice) and Mindy (Eden Sher) are our bike-helmet wearing heroes, but that doesn’t mean we know much about them. Even in a movie that champions the outcasts, we still relegate them to the thing that labels them: Mindy is the supersmart, MIT-bound nerd, Jodi is the aimless dreamer, there’s the guy who wears a cape to school, the guy who exists just to dance, the girl who’s obsessed with Paris, the girl scout…lots and lots of one dimensions.

The Outcasts can best be described as “harmless” – it adds nothing to the high school movie genre and is light on its message of inclusivity. The only mild amusement I derived from the movie was in reading the slogans on everyone’s tshirts. I was forgetting it before it was even done, and that’s probably for the best.


Back in December, I reviewed Mysterious Skin, Looper, and Sin City: A Dame to Kill For and brick postermade no secret of my Joseph Gordon-Levitt bias. It all started with Brick. I exited the theater when I first saw it back in 2006 certain that this was an actor to watch out for and refusing to listen to my friend’s allegations that this was in fact the same kid from 3rd Rock from the Sun.

Watching it again nearly a decade later, Brick feels a bit like a feature length high school video project- complete with an extremely low budget and a high school serving as the unlikely setting for a Maltese Falcon-style detective story. JGL plays a loner named Brendan who must navigate the seedy underworld of his school to solve his ex-girlfriend’s murder. The dialogue, music, and twists seem to come from a bizarre 40s noir. Instead of a meddling cop, we get a nagging vice-principal.

Just like in the Leonardo DiCaprio version of Romeo and Juliet, first time writer-director Rian Johnson (who JGL later worked with again on Looper) relies on the anachronisms in the discourse to make an old story feel new. This gives him an excuse to tell a pretty straightforward detective story without it feeling like just another detective story. I’ll admit his style takes some getting used to and I was completely thrown off at first back in 2006. But once you get the hang of it, it’s easy to get caught up in Johnson’s surreal picture of a modern high school. Sure, they don’t talk like real teenagers but they never do in the movies anyway. At least Brick is fun to listen to.


Brick runs just a little bit longer than the novelty of Johnson’s gimmick and there are a couple of times too many where he uses self-parody as a bit of a crutch. The film really works best when it’s reminding us that the darkest of secrets can be hidden within the walls of our publc schools. You’ll either love the film’s style or you’ll hate it but JGL sold it for me. He always strikes just the right note and, like the movie itself, has one foot in the past and the other in the present. He has the look of a modern troubled teenager with the soul of Sam Spade. Nearly a decade later, I am still always looking forward to his next project.