American High School (2009)
When considering any film it is essential to be able to determine what genre it belongs to. A film may be successful when viewed in one category but a dismal failure if watched with some different genre in mind. I’ve had this discussion many times with some close friends particularly with the films of director Ed Woods Jr. as to whether he was the worse director ever or a comic genius. This came to mind while watching one of the latest ‘R’ rated teen oriented flicks ‘American High School’ by Sean Patrick Cannon. Even after my initial viewing I was unsure just which cinematic box to place it in. it is listed as a romantic comedy but I found little evidence of the required elements to classify it as that genre. A better case could be made for ‘American Pie’ as a rom-com then this flick. As a typical teen sex romp comedy it goes too far over the top painting the humor with far too broad a brush. The only genre that seemed to make sense is a parody. This film was not trying to be the next over the top raunchy teen flick; it was making fun of them all. The best way to consider this flick is to think of it as a prime example of reductio de adsurbum. It takes the elements of the teen sex comedies that are multiplying at an alarming rate and poking fun at them however possible. At first glance the movie comes off as down right silly. It represents an surrealistic view of the American high school where couples are having sex in every corner. Personally I attended an all male high school so there was nothing like this in my experience. The school is also populated entirely by beautiful and all too willing girls and handsome guys ready to take the ladies up on their offers. The adults are hornier than the kids and offer nothing in the way of guidance or being a role model. If you take this film on face value you would think the whole high school should be put down for the sake of the gene pool. But, if you think of it as a satire then things take on a far different perspective. Even with this said it is an all out parody with little if any subtly in sight. In this case the proper vantage point can make or break the production.
This is the first feature film as both writer and director for Sean Patrick Cannon. Prior to this his experience was as an assistant casting director so it can be said that he as jumped into this with both feet. He did provide himself with a safety zone by using high school as a setting. This is something that much of the audience has in common and can readily understand. Since I came from a high school without the distraction of the female gender many of the situations are far apart from personal experience and come off as if I was an anthropologist studying some far distant culture. For most this story will strike a bit closer to home. The amount of sex going on in this school puts the ‘American Pie’ franchise to shame. One infection would sweep through this community within a matter of hours resulting in an epidemic that the CDC would have to act upon. To his credit Cannon has added a few fresh elements to this familiar situation. The main couple is entering their senior year married. Marriage in a film like this is often the ending or part of the epilogue but I can’t recall it being part of the main story. The use this plot device opens up novel variations and directions but the best possible use of the circumstances is left unvisited. What remains when the smoke clears in this flick is a bawdy comedy of errors that is a zany romp. A film like this works best when the audience is feeling down and doesn’t want to think a lot for a couple of hours. There is little plot to follow and the characters are cartoons of standard archetypes. Don’t get me wrong; you will laugh throughout much of the film and in the end that is all that matters.
As a new director Cannon does better than you might think. Some additional experience would have helped him define this clearly as a spoof but the ultimate intent does come across. He paces the film well leaving few dull spots. He uses a variation of the ‘dear diary’ means of exposition by having the main character Gwen Adams (Jillian Murray) sitting in her bedroom. She breaks the forth wall and speaks directly to the audience filling us in on the interaction of the characters at hand. Of course everything is colored by her situation and perspective. Gwen is a typical teenage girl who has few grey shades in her life. She hates or loves with few falling somewhere in the middle. She and here young husband Holden (Talan Torriero) have nothing real in their plans for the future. They are still working on their goal of having sex in every forbidden place in the school. Gwen is not part of the popular crowd in the school and has a long standing feud with the local queen bee Hilary Weiss (Aubrey O'Day). Naturally Hilary is always followed by her pack of toadies who look like they are in training for a career in some cheap strip club. It is not as if Gwen had much of a chance in life. Her mother is not around and her father Kip Dick (Hoyt Richards) is a sleaze bag who is destined for a spot on ‘To Catch a Predator’. He is constantly trying to have sex with every young girl around. He was a star of an old television show and a string of low budget action flicks in his long past prime.. No one in the school can look to the faculty for guidance. The principal Mr. Mann (Martin Klebba) is short in stature but long on perversion, especially with his assistant Alice (Ashley Morey). Mann is always groping her and if she had a modicum of brains would realize she had a great sexual harassment case against him. Their history teacher Mr. Seuss (Pat Jankiewicz) is a bit of an idiot may worse by the fact that his beautiful wife Miss Apple (Nikki Ziering) who likes to show off her body and is the art teacher and vice principal.
The story is presented in a series of segments called ‘missions’. Each one defines a particular object that Gwen and her cohorts have to achieve such as ‘destroy Hilary’ or completely humiliate her father. This was a better way to go since the actors did not have to sustain a longer story and the bits help in pacing the film properly. Cannon shows potential but is not there yet. Once he works on the details and reigns in his humor from the broad slapstick here he should be fine. This is a good choice for a weekend afternoon popcorn flick.