Friday, April 17, 2020


At this writing, my “Friday Flicks” column, online at Phoenix Magazine, has been put on pause until further notice. Before the pause, however, I had already seen…

Selah and the Spades—A near-obligatory element of high school comedies and dramas is the breakdown, by a veteran student to a newcomer, of the school’s various cliques and factions. This visually polished, well-acted drama, the feature debut of writer-director Tayarisha Poe, doesn’t bother to try to incorporate this scene into the fabric of the film; it opens with narration breaking down the various groups that supply the illicit needs of students at Haldwell, an elite Pennsylvania prep school.
The title crew, led by tiny, beautiful, iron-willed Selah (Lovie Simone), peddles drugs, especially pills, to the students. The film involves her shifting relations with her sidekick Maxxie (Jharrel Jerome) and new girl Paloma (Celeste O’Connor), who Selah presses into service as her protégé. Poe imbues the film with an ominous, oppressive atmosphere and an almost dreamlike stylization.
The actors play it very earnestly—especially Simone, who touchingly lets us see the vulnerability and terror that underlie Selah's steeliness—and I couldn't decide whether the movie, available today on Amazon Prime, was taking itself seriously or doing a deadpan spoof of the standard teen-movie tropes. But the final moments gave it an unexpected emotional payoff by avoiding either obvious melodrama or unconvincing platitude. Selah and the Spades is a chilly, slightly uneven, ultimately impressive piece of work.

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