Thursday, April 16, 2020

Selah and The Spades

Written and directed by Tayarisha Poe, Selah and The Spades offers a look at the cliques inside the private high school of Haldwell where its title character (played by Lovie Simone) reigns supreme by running the school's drug-dealing faction known as the Spades. It's highs are stronger than its lows, but Poe's film has enough of each to undercut the storytelling at times leading to an uneven tale of the secret life of spoiled high school students after hours.

The film finds it strength in Simone as the out-going senior troubled by insecurities, rivals, and an overbearing mother (Gina Torres) who has her daughter's life planned out, and Celeste O'Connor as the younger transfer student who Selah takes under her wing. While the film teases something more between them, in the end it's hard to tell just what the two mean to each other (or if they even know). Also of note are Poe's vision and the cinematography of Jomo Fray, both of which help frame the story as something apart from the majority of high school films. Even if the ending feels rushed and somewhat unsatisfying, enough of Selah and The Spades works to make it memorable in a year where that could be scarce.

Simone has the unenviable task of attempting to make Selah likable, at least from the perspective of the naive Paloma (O'Connor). That she's successful is a credit to the young actress as Selah's self-imposed isolation and self-destructive tendencies foreshadow a rather obvious conclusion. My a favorite scenes of the film are between the pair, both in the softer and more volatile moments, and I would have liked to see that relationship expanded further rather than the amount of time given for the rivalries between factions of mostly uninteresting side-characters.

Given its short running time of 97 minutes, there are storylines that are left undeveloped. The most important of these deals with with the unspoken truth about Selah's former lieutenant which is hinted at for much of the film. Given the number of times it is teased, I expected a bigger payoff to the plot thread which, honestly, doesn't offer that much more insight into our title character and turns out to be largely superfluous. Selah and The Spades may not be all it could be, but there's enough her to keep your interest, even when the story falters, suggesting the best of Poe is yet to come. Selah and The Spades is available on Amazon Prime starting April 17th.

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