Title – Selah and the Spades (2019)
Director – Tayarisha Poe (feature debut)
Cast – Lovie Simone, Jharrel Jerome, Celeste O’Connor, Ana Mulvoy Ten, Jesse Williams
Plot – In the posh boarding school of Haldwell, a collection of factions run the grounds with their sales of illegal goods and extracurricular activities with the hard-edged Selah (Simone) and her group the Spades acting as an authority in the cutthroat world, a world in which newcomer Paloma (O’Connor) is thrown into.
“They will push you past your limit”
Review by Eddie on 06/08/2020
Promising much with a potentially gripping boarding school set drama centered around a collection of teenage factions that hold a monopoly over their upper-class education facility, Selah and the Spades is all shine and no substance as debut director Tayarisha Poe is unable to bring her story to vivid life.
Sharing some DNA with early 2000’s high-school indie Brick, Spades is in many ways a hip and now affair, surrounded by some of the hottest new talent in the industry with Lovie Simone and When They See Us star Jharrel Jerome leaders of an impressive young cast, but the at first intriguing story of Simone’s faction leader Selah and Celeste O’Connor’s newcomer and potential protege to Selah Paloma quickly gives way to a film that never feels at home in itself or crafts a central narrative that ends up being worth our time exploring.
Introducing us in the first few minutes to the various groups that run drugs and plan extra curricular activities in the school grounds of Haldwell, Spades seems like it is setting up a unique and vibrant world within a world for us to journey through but like most of the film, this idea seems only half explored at best with little care or thought given on how these elements combine around an otherwise generic fish out of water/coming of age story that doesn’t have the substance or vibrancy to stand out from a crowded marketplace.
Not afraid to tackle some dark themes but never diving into them in a way that makes Spades feel overly insightful, Poe and her actors don’t back away from taking Spades down an untypical route in some instances, with Selah a curiously detestable central figure and the grounds of Haldwell itself acting as a character in its own right but the actors best work and Spades visual prowess are only able to carry the uninviting and bland story so far.
With Simone and O’Connor acquitting themselves to their respective roles and Jerome doing well with limited material to work with or screentime to allow him to shine, Spades main trio of performers come out on top in a film that never builds in a way that feels worth it, especially in regards to an utterly bland finale that will make you wonder if reels of the film were lost before the credits hit the screen.
Final Say –
This Amazon Prime distributed offering has potential that is never met as Selah and the Spades fails to utilize the performers or story at its disposal in a way that makes this untypical school set drama worthy of your time.
2 prom nights out of 5