Title: Kids in America
Release Date: 2005
Nationality and Language:
Running time: 97 min
Distributor and Production Company: Launchpad, Slow Hand Cinema (and TheWB/Warner Independent Pictures??)
Director; Writer: Josh Stolberg; written Josh Stolberg, Andrew Shaifer (and Gregory Smith?)
Producer: Andrew Shaifer
Cast: Gregory Smith, Alex Anfanger, Stephanie Sherrin, Chris Morris, Katie Carmichael, Emily Chua, Julie Bowen, Malik Yoba, Andrew Shaifer
Technical: standard aspect, 35mm, dolby digital
Relevance to DOASKDOTELL site: 1st Amendment, student and teacher free speech
When I designed the backcover of my first “Do Ask Do Tell” book I somehow miscalibrated the age of the Bill of Rights, saying it was 160 years; and many copies I hand-applied a sticker to change the number to 210. I did correct this for the second printing, of course. I don’t know how that happened; many eyes missed it. Actually, the date of the Bill of Rights (12/15/1791) is the accepted date in history books – (here is a good web reference: http://www.magnet1.com/constitution.htm ) - figures in to the story, as “The Kids” plaster their high school lockers and walls with “12/15” as one of their peaceful protest tactics against Principal Weller (Julie Bowen) in this drama-comedy of constructive student rebellion.
The story features several incidents early on, as Weller suspends a girl for wearing condoms on her dress (when the girl claims to be promoting abstinence), suspends another for an overly graphic paragraph written in a free journal period in English class (a short journal period in a notebook is a common practice in high school English), and then suspends and then expels Holden Donovan (Gregory Smith) for a stunt in a school acting performance.
Now here we have to get into more of the setup. Most of the action centers around film, drama, and English classes where the kids are making videos and setting up short drama skits. (On a substitute teaching assignment last year I actually supervised a class where “kids” edited an entertaining instructional film on chemistry, using Premiere and other editing tools.) One girl has made a video “manifesto” appeal to protest the brutal practice of female clitoral mutilation in some African societies, and her teacher asks (“ask why!”) if it would not have been more appropriate to pick a cause that affected her own family or environment more directly. (This is a good question that probes into the moral underpinnings of one’s own speech.) The tension has been building when Holden pulls off his stunt.
He starts with the famous Hamlet (“play within a play”) “To be or not to be,” and hesitates. Then he goes on an effective monologue to protest the administrations treatment of several specific student efforts and then says that he is “not to be.” He then fakes suicide and slitting his wrists, then of course gets up and demos the prop underneath his long sleeve hiding the fake blood. (I’ve known of HIV patients who hide iv’s at work this way, even when working as flight attendants.) Of course, the administration is “very offended.”
Expelled, Holden rather takes over the movie, leading more protests and arranging to rig the microphone systems at school. There is another rather charismatic out gay student Lawrence Reitzer (newcomer Alex Anfanger) who has made a strategic opening appearance in the film nude except for boxer shorts, revealing what is essentially a perfect teenage male body (at least according to many tastes). (There is a photo shot of that scene on rogerebert.com’s review of the film.) Alex has sung and participated in a pivotal manner in various classes. Then he suddenly falls into the (false) gay stereotype when he can’t climb rope in gym class (it would appear that the real life actor would have no problem doing so). During all the protests, Alex kisses his boyfriend in the school hall within sight of The Principal, and is of course suspended, too. (Who is going to be left behind?) So Holden engineers all the students to engage in a same-sex kiss-out in front of The Principal. All of this from a character who is cast as energetically heterosexual in his own life as possible, with various making out scenes.
Holden will then get himself and several other kids thrown
in jail when they try to burn a sign (even using laser alignment pointers)
onto the football field to defeat Weller’s bid for election to the School
Is Holden named after the J. D. Salinger character from The Catcher in the Rye? It seems that his is much more forceful.
Apart from Alex Anfanger, in fact, Gregory Smith dominates this movie so thoroughly as the puppetmeister that it seems to me the movie must have been partly his idea. He does play the part as “Ephram plus” (for those viewers familiar with his work as the teenage piano prodigy Ephram in Everwood). He talks with the same colorful metaphors that seem to be Smith’s own personality. A the end, during the closing credits, he has a six minute “disco break dancing” kiss-out (part of it on the hood of a car), his shirt very loose and half-open as he tries to set a time record. The viewer can look for a couple of minor technical directorial errors here (or maybe there is double entendre).
This film is coming out as a platform release, and when I
saw it in
I want to make a note here, to, about the legal issues regarding free speech in schools. There have been many cases over the years. Generally, school administrations can control student speech and teacher on-premises (particularly classroom) speech that would disrupt the school environment or undermine the credibility of accepted curricula. (With gay and lesbian issues in many areas of the country, this can be a problem, as it may also be with some parents.) At one point in the film, principal Weller draws an analogy between her control of students and the Patriot Act after 9/11, a comparison that is obviously inappropriate. There is a paradox here: the school wants to develop critical thinking skills in its students, so it would seem to need freedom of expression. But in public schools, even high schools, students vary so much in cognitive skills with abstract thought that many students need a carefully nurtured environment.
Off-campus speech is more edgy, and the legal barrier that a school system would face in proving a student’s or a teacher’s speech to be disruptive would probably he higher. Even so, the presence of the Internet and World Wide Web raises unprecedented issues because of the Web’s global pervasiveness. There have been issues with regard to student web sites that grade or criticize teachers, as well as those that promote certain cultures perceived as anti-social (Gothic, or even gangs). Students have sometimes made statements from home computers that were perceived as threats and have been disciplined as a result. Teacher speech on the Web could become an issue if students found it through search engines and if the speech was somehow perceived as offensive or disruptive. Yet, one would not want schools to be able to censor the content of teacher off-duty speech. Therefore, the responsibilities of the teacher (at least if he or she is responsible for grading students) to mediate his own speech on the Web sounds like a potentially serious subject, maybe for another movie (maybe even mine).
Here are some legal references on free speech in public schools:
Gregory Smith and Lee Norris (One Tree Hill) sponsor “The U” on TheWB:
I would recommend showing this film along with John Stossel’s
Also, compare to Freedom Writers (2007, Paramount), link below.
Boot Camp (2007, MGM/20th Century Fox/Nomadic CD, dir. Christian Duguay) Gregory Smith, about 24 when he made this and now totally virilized, plays the Holden Caulfield good guy who pretends to be bad to get admitted to a Tough Love (“Serenity”) boot camp for delinquents in the Fijis to rescue a girl friend and expose the Tough Love company as a dangerous scam. Smith’s acting is an interesting mixture of adolescent fervor and grown up idealism: his voice is curiously effective when he tells people off, as when he calls Sophie’s father a “prick” to his face, and later when he tries to save another camper’s life. Smith should have an interesting career ahead. Blogger.
A Wrinkle in Time (2003, Dimension/Disney Channel, dir. John Kent Harrison, novel by Madeleine l’Engle, UK, G, 128 min). Gregory Smith is the good neighbor kid who accompanies the kids in the next house to another planet to look for their physicist dad caught in a time warp. Great ideas for what it’s like on other planets. Blogger.
Chasing Holden (2001, Lions
Gate/Christopher Eberts, dir. Malcolm Clarke, 104
min, R). When I was substitute teaching, I had one assignment where the
students had to write an in-class book report/review on their summer reading.
Some students had selected J. D. Salinger’s famous 1951 novel about teenage
rebellion with its protagonist Holden Caulfield. We all know the book – The Catcher in the Rye. I read
it in the eyebrow barracks at
Now the kid, Neil Lawrence (JD Qualls) has been returned
to a boarding school in
Igby Goes Down (2002, United Artists, dir. Burr Steers, 97 min, R) A 17 year old Igby (Kieran Culkin) flunks out of some prep schools and then winds his away among the Manhattan rich and becomes the darling of older women, although this world of privilege will not live up to his expectations. With Claire Danes, Amanda Peet, Jeff Goldblum, Ryan Philippe, Bill Pullman. Rory Culin plays Igby at 10. Compare to “Charlie Bartlett”.
Brick (2005, Focus/Bergman Lustig, dir. Rian Johnson, 110
min, R). Well, here we have “the Kids” again, high school students with their
self-contained worlds of intrigues and politics. And here, it’s organized
crime. This film won a special prize at Sundance. Geeky loner 17-year-old
Brendan Fry (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) investigates the disappearance of his girl
friend. Soon he finds her corpse at the mouth of a sewage tunnel. With all
the right moves, he infiltrates a high school drug ring. After a meeting with
an assistant principal (Richard Roundtree) we
realize that he may have been “hired” undercover. But Brendan is indeed the
perfect kid for the role. His character is a cross between Seth Cohen (The
As one comment to me says, the storyline and narrative style of this film is very laconic, and presents the character is a singleminded fashion, in order to keep the viewer hooked. That's a screenwriting issue. I came away wanting to know a lot more about the character and the rest of his life, including school. This character could be a good focus for a CW-type series.
Perhaps no one is really sumptuous in these two movies, but then there is….
High School Musical (2006, Walt
Disney Pictures/Disney Channel/Salty Pictures, dir. Kenny Ortega, G, 125 min
including dance-along extra). In television and movies, this is becoming the
era of the super-kids. And it is now “in” to be the gaudy, flashy, colorful
male, just as in the natural bird world (where the males have bright
colors). Although this movie lauds
just being a great high-school kid, it stands out as a kind of songfest and dancefest, which would resist comparison to other, much
more dramatic films and shows about high school (including those on this
page). Nevertheless, these “kids in America” – and they are presented
visually as perfect kids, even if related to a Disneyworld paradigm,
something you would see at the Florida theme park – indeed Fantasyland-- on
New Years Day. The story, in fact, is said to take place in
The film was punctuated by dance lessons, instructed by Zac Efron and (I think) Lucas Gabreel. They were detailed, and rehearsed half speed and
full speed, and executed with precision, as if the cast were also prepared
for ballet (which is actually very demanding athletically). When I was a
substitute teacher, I had the pleasure of subbing three days in a drama class
where a professional dance company was instructing the high school kids, and
the dance moves, body mechanics and instruction of the real life lessons at a
High School Musical 2 (2007,
Walt Disney Pictures, dir. Kenny Ortega, 100 min, G) premiered on Aug. 17 on
the Disney Channel.
High School Musical 3: Senior Year (2008, Walt Disney Pictures, dir. Kenny Ortega, 112 min, music by David Lawrence, G), finally an initial theatrical release. The kids put on a Senior Musical and some get into Juilliard. Blogger review. Compare to “Were the World Mine” (below).
Musical (2006, Greenrocksolid, dir.
Richard Wong, music and screenply by H.P. Mendoza,
119 min, sug. PG) is a bit like a gay “High School
Musical.” True, the “kids” have just graduated, as Billy (Jame
Moreno), Rodel (H. P. Mendoza) and Maribel (L. A. Renigen) form a triangle that dances and sings in a
fog-ridden town south of
Hoot (2006, New Line/Walden Media, dir. Wil Shriner, 90 min, PG) is
another movie where playful teens become the heroes; again “kids in
The Climb (1996, Vanguard, dir
Bob Swaim) presents a period piece (1959)
12-year-old Danny Himes (Gregory Smith) as inspired to climb a 200-foot radio
tower, to offset the family stain by his father’s failure to serve in the
military, an idea which was a big deal in that culture. John Hurt plays a
lung cancer victim, and David Strathaim plays the
dad. Although this film is supposed to be set near
Cyber Seduction: His Secret Life (Focus/Lifetime, dir. Tom McLoughlin, 90 min, sug PG-13). On this page, I wanted to assemble movies that present “the kids” in a positive way. Here 16 year-old Jeremy Sumpter is a high school swimming star (however “unprepped”) Justin Peterson who will be redeemed at the very end. It’s a mature role, because the teen gets (heterosexually) addicted to Internet female pornography. (The film shows images of the websites, that run amok sometimes as if driven by a virus or by spyware; but it shows no actual nudity.) Now it is just websites, with some material fed by webcams. It’s not that clear why he gets so easily hooked, but is starts to destroy his family (Jake Scott and Kelly Lynch play his parents, and his mother was once a swimming star herself and she expects her son to get a swimming athletic scholarship). He shows it secretly to his curious middle school brother, who is not old enough to be impressed, and is willing to confide in his mother. But soon his brother is accused of sending pornographic spam—probably meaning that his screename was spoofed by a virus introduced by the pornography. The parents move the computer into the family room, but Justin still savvy’s his way around their defenses. When they disconnect the Internet and ground him (which means he and his brother are also crippled in legitimate use, like his homework) he gets porn at the school library. Finally he gets caught and put on probation and is asked to see a therapist. He finally visits a “girl friend” and finds himself intimated, and gets beaten up by kids in the wrong crowd. Then he is ready to reconcile with his family.
The movie does not get into the really troubling areas (like chat rooms trolled by predators using webcams, or kids who use webcams themselves to create their own pornography, as with the Justin Berry case reported in the New York Times and on Oprah. The later true story would make an informative docudrama movie.
Since I am party to the litigation against COPA (Child Online Protection Act), I see this issue from both sides. More individual freedom and “power” means that parents have to be a lot more vigilant, and it takes teens a maturation process to learn to use the Internet safely (look at the controversy over social networking sites like myspace.com). There are other kinds of content that can be harmful besides outright pornography, and it seems that one problem is that people do not yet have a lot of accountability for what they put up (the “myspace problem” is symptomatic of that); one person’s freedom becomes another family’s challenge. I’d love to get involved with making a movie about the ethics of all of this. Even Lifetime can do a lot better.
Strangers with Candy (2005, ThinkFilm/Comedy Central, dir. Paul Dinello,
87 min, R) is the prequel to the famous Comedy Central series. It is written
by three of the participants: Paul Dinello, who
plays the art teacher Goeffrey Jellineck;
Stephen Colbert, who plays gay science teacher
boyfriend Chuck Noblet (Stephen Colbert); Amy
Sedaris, who plays 46-year-old ex-con Jerri Blank, who re-enters high school,
and Mitch Rouse. There is plenty of physical comedy, and cornball dialogue
that is a bit like “Saturday Night Live.”
There are high school kids who give Jerri a hard time, as she tries to
get a project into the science fair sponsored by the gay science teacher. Dinello appears in a faculty steam room, almost in drag,
hairless of body. He and Chuck fight over who is saying “it’s over” for their
relationship. They don’t hide it from the Kids. One of the most conspicuous
is blond Brason, played by Chris Pratt, who looks a
lot fitter here than he does as Bright in Everwood. Chris Pratt and
Gregory Smith did the mall tour for Everwood in the
summer of 2005, and it is interesting that Chris appears (without Greg) in
this film that is kind of an antithesis of “Kids in
Almost lost in all of this is the fact that Jerri’s father is in a coma, and she childishly talks in school about bringing him back to life. She does. There is one dream sequence, where “the beast with a million eyes” is reconstructed.
Fallen (2006, Walt Disney/ABCFamily, dir. Mikael Salomon, novel by Tom Sniegoski) is ultimately more a youth film than a supernatural one, although the call is close. Aaron Corbett (Paul Wesley aka Paul Wasilewski) is an adopted foster teen who calls his new Age parents by their first names, and has an autistic adopted little brother (Alex Ferris). On his eighteenth birthday, he starts getting headaches and super powers, both, and soon finds out that he is being hunted down by fallen angels. The movie intercuts with flashbacks back to the Middle Ages and in “Heaven” of angels killing each other and plotting. Aaron is on the wrestling team as a senior in high school, and is about to get a college scholarship. He is protective of people, as he defends the local geek (probably gay) from a bully on the team, Peter (Jesse Hutch). (The geek rather resembles me as a teen, so this was a bit heavy. The story could have gone in a different direction here.) He encounters a homeless man Zeke who is also fallen, and discovers his powers when he saves his talking dog Gabriel after a car accident. He also finds he can speak in tongues, even though he has never been to a revival or been “slain in the spirit” as in an Assembly of God. (I witnessed that happen in 1998 in the Brownsville Assembly of God in Pensacola, FL). He learns from Zeke that he is a nephillim, half-man, half-angel, but he may in fact be destined to be a redeemer or savior (rather like Superman). But the fallen angels chase him, incinerating his therapist with spontaneous combustion. Aaron is determined to protect his family, but in a final showdown he must decide whether he wants to be human or an angel. Zeke says “I got tired of letting others die so I could live.”
Although this is based on a novel, I can imagine that the geek could have been brought into the story more, and posed interesting additional spiritual problems. The movie does explain some of the theology of fallen angels in a somewhat conventional way. One of my own scripts (“69 Minutes to Titan”), partially available at this site, poses the question over whether one can choose to become an angel or be chosen to be one, regardless of birth circumstances—but might have to live up to a certain code. In my story, a “virus” transmits the angelic capabilities to people, but they can be any people born with the right capabilities. This is a concept that I have explored in a novel manuscript, also. (Should I give away my trade secrets on the Internet? An idea is one thing; executing it in a script or novel in detail with plot and living characters is another.)
The sociology of the movie does get into high school (it’s
a bit of a glorified “Kids in
This 2006 film is now known as “Fallen: The Beginning” and was followed in August 2007 by two sequels: “The Journey” and “The Destiny”. For more see blogger review here.
The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants
(2005, Warner Bros., dir. Ken Kwapis, novel by Ann Brashares, 119 min, PG) is a gentle little romantic
comedy about four teenage girls who pass down a hand-me-down pair of jeans
that fits each one of them as they go out and look for romance. (Somehow the
title makes me think of “The Puffy Chair.”)
One of the girls has leukemia to deal with, and the script has a “Rick
Warren”-like philosophical line that external success is not intended for
everyone. The pants travel to
The Covenant (2006, Sony Screen Gems,
dir. Reny Harlin, wr. J. S. Cardone, PG-13, 95
min). Well, this is one of those stereotyped DGC supernatural flicks, made in
Teaching Mrs. Tingle (1999, Dimension / Miramax, dir. Kevin Williamson) A girl Leigh Anne Watson (Katie Holmes) is willing to murder a teacher (Helen Miren) who gave her a bad grade in order to become valedictorian. Do grades mean that much? It’s supposed to be funny. Barry Watson makes an early career appearance as Luke.
The Stepfather (2009, Screen Gems, dir. Nelson McCormick, R, remake of 1987 film). Penn Badgley plays “the boy” returning from military school, his chest shaved for swimming team (or maybe for Gossip Girl), ready to undermine the evil stepfather’s attempt to take over his mother’s family. It’s always up to the kids. Blogger.
(2007, Cappies, dir. Glen Hockkeppel)
Related reviews:. Good Night, and Good Luck Everwood with “Jack & Bobby” GLBT films Billy’s First Screen Kiss Kids Shadow Zone: My Teacher Ate My Homework Stupid in America Summerland Sunshine State Brokeback Mountain An Unfinished Life Holes (similar names: Strangers on a Train; Hard Candy) The Beast with a Million Eyes Dogma Camp Freedom Writers Senioritis (play) Were the World Mine
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