How many America high school comedies have you seen? How many more do you want to see? Exactly my thoughts as I slid the DVD of Kids in America into the slot. But I was wrong and happy about it, because this is a smart and funny film, about smart and funny and intensely likeable teenagers who are shown giving nearly everything their best shot because it’s the first time they’ve done any of it.
The action revolves around a gang of seven students, more ethnically mixed than your average movie high school clique, who decide that something in their “everything verboten” school has got to change. And it’s not going to be them. So they set out to unseat the principal (Julie Bowen), who is running to be the state’s schools superintendent and therefore especially keen to crush all dissent – hence her expulsion of the Celibacy Club booster who had pinned condoms to her dress, the event which kicks off the rebellion in earnest.
This takedown of the ice-queen-bitch is pulled off with some panache by the plotters, and by the film’s writers, Andrew Shaifer and director Josh Stolberg, who apparently built their screenplay around actual newspaper stories of kids who got thrown out of school for various infringements of protocol, which is why, perhaps, there is a ring of bright truth about it all. But mostly they get the tone right, that entitled smartass whinge that teenagers think marks them out as adults and which makes actual adults want to hit them, or worse. As for the cast, you probably will know the odd face – there’s George Wendt and Adam Arkin and Elizabeth Perkins, and over there is Nicole Richie as Kelly Stepford, the cheerleader who actually has something up top (no, above that).
But mostly it’s an excuse to riff on high school movies generally and ring out a few zinging one-liners – “Trying to find talent at Booker High is like trying to find weapons of mass destruction in my anus.” OK, just me then.
But that line does bring us to the least satisfactory aspect of the film, its whole satire on Bush-era America and the loss of freedom since the passing of the Patriot Act. Fingers in ears, then, for the earnest references to the First Amendment, and then take them out again when things get back on track, which is most of the time.
© Steve Morrissey 2006