Stream or skip?


Stream or skip? +2023

My so-called high school rank (now on HBO Max) is a classic case of documentary filmmakers going where the story takes them. In this case, the directors are Ricki Stern and Anne Sundberg (Survive Jeffrey Epstein and Joan Rivers: A piece of work) set about recording the progress of the musical rank however, as its popularity grew beyond its Sacramento high school origins, the film’s production followed the students as they navigated the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The essentials: David Taylor Gomes and Kyle Holmes wrote rank specifically for students at Granite Bay High School. They saw teens obsessed with their academic performance rankings — which they track in real time with an app — and faced tremendous pressure from their families and communities to get into the best college possible. So they wrote a musical set in a not-too-distant dystopian future, where all social worth of high schoolers depends on their rank, with their ability to achieve the “American Dream.” Some context: Granite Bay is the same school where a top graduate gave a graduation speech that went viral on YouTube for being highly critical of the “game” students play to achieve academic success. and rank debuted when the college admissions scandal Varsity Blues proved that money and influence can unfairly benefit students from privileged backgrounds.

The musical, if you will forgive the expression, hit a nerve after its premiere in spring 2019. Suddenly Gomes and Holmes were being contacted by schools across the country to license the script and we meet some of the students and educators who direct these productions. One takes place in Cupertino, California, an upper-middle-class community full of high-performing immigrants working at places like Apple and Pinterest; The school is ranked 292 out of 17,857 nationally. Another is in Ripley, West Virginia, a city of 38,000 where opioid abuse is a major problem and the main employer is an aluminum plant; This school sits at 4,684 academically, but no. 1 in archery.

The documentary introduces several children who take part in the musical. One is Cupertino student Senih, who gets by with Cs and Bs and a few As, but regularly feels pressure from his father to do better; his father is a Turkish immigrant who was an above average student and now has a job that allows him to garage a Lamborghini. Another is Leo in Ripley who wants to study animation but needs to move far from his small town to pursue his dream. An ominous subtitle tells us it’s early March 2020. Other schools, including Fordham High School for the Arts in the Bronx, are preparing for performances rank, while Gomes and Holmes travel to New York City to introduce the musical to Broadway producers. And yes, all of this is falling apart.

Which movies will it remind you of?: Elements of Covid doc The first wave and College Application Doc Try harder! mingle with bits of Tick, tick… boom! and Every little step.

Notable performance: You can’t help but support the students featured here (Fordham’s Isiah and Jolimar show considerable talent!) as they pursue their dreams.

Memorable dialogue: The filmmakers ask a student at Ripley High School in West Virginia:

“Have you ever thought about going to Ivy League college?”

“What is that? I honestly don’t know what that is.”

gender and skin: none.

Our opinion: Watch after My so-called high school rank, one gets the impression that Stern and Sundberg took a beating to finish their film. It starts with an in-depth look at the academic ranking system, the toll it takes on students’ mental health, and the differences in educational opportunities across socioeconomic classes — all that stuff rank addresses. And as the filmmakers tried to follow kids from different schools performing the musical, the pandemic put the students (and no doubt the filmmakers) in distress. And so the documentary offers a montage of major cities eerily empty during lockdown, deviating from the themes of distance learning, Covid-related anxiety and eventually societal unrest in the wake of George Floyd’s murder and staging of musicals via Zoom.

The film is divided into three acts: the first delves into the literal and ideological origins of the musical, the second emphasizes the shaky state of the Covid-plagued world, and the third catches up with a handful of students graduating and looking forward to uni . The result is an unfocused whiff of topical fodder that occasionally strikes out some intensely emotional tones – students are caught on camera as they are told they are receiving significant grants – but never coalesce into thematic coherence. One feels pulled here and there and everywhere, from a very brief discussion of teenage suicide to the economic challenges of going to college to the effort it takes to get a show on Broadway to towards strained parent-child relationships; it feels like a lot of grazing hits and no direct hits.

It’s like the directors stitched together the footage they had after a few years of work and messily dropped the chips where they want. If you are inclined to excuse a documentary with noble intentions, you will argue that such narrative jumble reflects the highly disruptive nature of our time. That seems a reasonable estimate My so-called high school rank.

Our appeal: Stream it. Though it’s hard to find focus My so-called high school rank addresses its few issues with enough relevance and poignancy to justify a watch.

John Serba is a freelance writer and film critic based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Read more about his work below

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