High School: John Hughes on Drugs

By Tony LaScala · June 3, 2012

High School debuted in limited release this weekend. Apart from a few chuckles prompted by the stoner behind me (and only other guy watching the movie with me on its opening weekend) I was never really sure when I was supposed to laugh during this extremely repetitive and offbeat film.

The decently structured—yet extremely predictable—script told the story of high school Valedictorian Henry Burke (Matt Bush) reconnecting with his former childhood friend-turned high school burnout Travis Breaux (Sean Marquette). MIT bound Henry is easily convinced to smoke pot for the first time, only to discover to his horror that the school is doing random drug testing the following day. In order to save his Valedictorian status and scholarship to MIT, Henry and Travis launch a plan to ensure the entire school fails the drug test by getting everyone stoned via a pot brownie bake sale.

The movie was one-part John Hughes knock off and one part satirical rip on marijuana propaganda films. For my movie-going dollar, it wasn’t worth the price of admission because the script broke a cardinal rule:  I just didn’t empathize with Henry’s problem. Therefore, I wasn’t ever fully committed to the hour and forty-five minute slow crawling stoner van ride that is High School. I try not to let other movie reviewers influence my reviews. That being said, a quick search around the Internet finds that stoner types LOVE this movie.

From a screenplay standpoint the movie peaked too early. The most dangerous scene occurs when the two heroes sneak into gun toting drug dealer Psycho Ed’s (Adrien Brody) house in the middle of the night to steal his stash. After almost getting shot on a few different occasions, but my expectations for heightened reality were dashed as the stakes of the next hour or so were way less dangerous—interactions with unseen school security cameras and jealous Salutatorian Sebastian Saleem (Adhir Kalyan).

Another unfulfilling aspect of High School was it’s one-sided characterization of the American teenager. Every stock character acted and reacted exactly as stock versions of “The Stoner” and ‘The Brains” would be expected to react, with no diverging from the predictable path. I couldn’t empathize with anyone, because I didn’t really feel a connection with any of the characters. I was certainly never at the top of my class, nor was I even close to the bottom. Perhaps a third character added to the group to act as a middle man could have centered the film a little more, as it jumped back and forth from one extreme to the next. Every problem is solved somewhat easily either by “The Brain’s” use of his almost superhuman keen intellect or “The Stoner’s” use of weed-logic and burnout guerilla style problem solving.

Perhaps the best aspect of High School was it’s clever direction by writer/director John Stalberg and comic delivery of the underappreciated cast. A clever thirty-second exchange between crazy drug dealer Psycho Ed, the two heroes, and a croaking frog is expertly and comically directed with the word “What?” being the only dialogue exchanged between all four speakers. Overall the cast carried a pretty weak script honorably, with special shout outs going to Brody, Hanks, and Marquette. Several other chuckle-worthy interactions and one-line zingers occur throughout the movie, but it wasn’t enough to keep my focus.

Unless High School somehow reaches cult status with red-eyed teenagers, it will be soon seen in a 99-cent bin in the local Drug Store to be rifled through by half-baked misanthropes searching for an hour and a half of glazed over entertainment. Wait till then to see it if you must. But, my dear reader, if you are the type who indulges in the very herbal remedy this film’s subject matter is focused on, then by all means, rush to the theatres. You’ll probably think High School is Oscar worthy.