How do I capture the experience of watching High School, to the people who are likely to watch High School? John Stahlberg’s film is a dependable, comfortable grade of stoner comedy, and maybe that’s just fine for what it is. It’s not easy to rise above the genre, but when pot movies are laced with higher quality content, like Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused, you feel like you’ve gained something greater than the sum of its parts.
The first problem with High School is how familiar everything feels: the last day of school, one straight-laced senior named Henry (Matt Bush) angling for MIT, his lazy stoner friend Travis (Sean Marquette) with no future, and the girl of his dreams out of reach – at least when everyone’s sober. The school’s repressed principal (Michael Chiklis) schedules a last-minute drug test the day after Henry and Travis get extraordinarily baked. The only solution? Get everyone, including teachers, high on the day of the drug test, by way of delicious pot brownies.
You are probably imagining what your high school would look like if everything was “tripping balls”, as the kids say, and let me guarantee you that High School does not stray from the consensus imagination. That’s the second problem: the easy, “whooaa whaat time is it maan?” kind of third-rate writing. If you’re baked, you’re probably having a good time anyway, but I would save my money, buy some Cheetos and watch Wondershowzen instead.
Adrien Brody does steal the show as Psycho Ed, a math prodigy turned alpha-dealer. In one of the film’s inspired moments (as far as stoner comedies go), a fucked-up Brody, in braids and Jack Sparrow beard, beats himself up in a bout of self-loathing in front of his judgmental pet toad. These are the kinds of druggy moments that elevate scenes above easy convention. Think of Jeff Bridges holding a joint stub with tweezers, listening to whale song on tape in his bathtub in The Big Lebowski, or John Travolta and Eric Stoltz, on heroin and weed respectively, driving a needle into Uma Thurman’s heart in Pulp Fiction.
Stahlberg and his writers thread in an implicit call for loosening attitudes towards marijuana, but it’s not too funny or political. High School is a meat-and-potatoes comedy, and every stoner can do a lot better than that for munchies.