This is the first review I’ve written in months, so I’m rusty.
Despite recent movie delays, streaming services like Amazon and Netflix continue to release original movies and shows. Selah and the Spades hits Amazon Prime Friday April 17th and this unique take on a coming-of-age boarding school drama is well worth the watch.
This is NOT your typical coming-of-age drama. Unlike films like Dead Poets Society or the Harry Potter series, Selah and the Spades gives us a look at a boarding school through the lens of black and brown students. The main character is a strong, intelligent black girl, the opposite of her white male counterparts.
Selah and the Spades stars Lovie Simone as Selah Summers. It follows five factions who run the underground of Haldwell High, a prestigious boarding school. At the top of the factions is the Spades lead by Selah — a high school senior who walks a fine line between love and fear. The Spades are the drug overlords of the school. A new right hand emerges for Selah — a younger student Paloma (Celeste O’Connor) who is more laidback. Selah’s long time friend, Maxxie (Jharrel Jerome), stays by her side, but this new protege could give him a run for his money.
The movie hits a lot of positive notes right off the bat. Immediately viewers will notice the immersive cinematography. You can feel writer-director Tayarisha Poe’s strong synergy with cinematographer Jomo Fray. Shots are a healthy balance of wide stills, tasteful out of focus subjects, and unsteady shaking to emulate someone running with the Spades. The transitions between scenes are riddled with bleeding audio from a previous scene, but a shot change onscreen. The movie is lit with greens and whites from the Haldwell High school colors and allows the viewer to escape into this environment.
This is another positive — the world of Haldwell High and its characters. The movie sucks us into the Gen-Z generation of highschool worries and you get lost in it.
Selah Summers is a unique character in that she truly walks a line between love and fear with characters AND you as the viewer. She’s charming and confident, but with questionable motives. Selah (pronounced sell-uh) runs the Spades with a tight ship ledger, but she’s crushed by the weight of the high expectations of her mother. During the movie some scenes make us despise her; she gets kids jumped, hazed, and much worst.
Her new protege in the film, Poloma, is the opposite. Unlike Selah’s tight dreads and coordinated outfits, Poloma lets her curls hang free and has a more laidback style. She challenges Selah’s uptight personality — she asks Selah if she’s been with anyone (which could be confused for feelings, they aren’t), to which Selah replies she’s not interested in relationships. It makes for a fun dynamic in what would be a typical “passing of the torch” story. Celeste O’Connor truly shines in this role and exposes her great acting abilities; she was the best among her castmates!
While there is a lot of positive, the biggest negative is the factions. At the beginning of the film, the factions are introduced to us with grave importance. Only the Spades and their biggest rivals, The Bobbys, are important to the story. The constant reminders of the factions feel inconsistent and tonally out of place with the rest of the film.
Celeste O’Connor and Lovie Simone give strong performances, and so does JESSE WILLIAMS (almost didn’t recognize him with the beard!) as the principal who wants to be cool. But everyone else feels like deer in the headlights. Ana Mulvoy Ten plays Selah’s rival, Bobby, but she doesn’t feel intimidating.
Also, the story feels a little weak. I think we spend a lot of time strolling through Haldwell high without a lot of substance. Scenes are visually spectacular, but don’t always contribute to the greater plot. It feels like a lot of loose ends aren’t tied, and the payoff is kinda… weak.
BUT I won’t spoil too much more than that, I’d love for you guys to check this one out. If it weren’t for some of the negatives, I’d be leaning more like an 8, but…
Will you be checking out Selah and the Spades? With a unique take on the genre, promising cinematography and direction, and an immersive environment, it’s worth the watch but not the best of the genre.
Here is a review of the movie from our YouTube: