Detention (2012, Joseph Kahn) – It’s not the opening scene that speaks to just how special, unique, and oddly revolutionary Joseph Kahn’s lightning paced teen movie genre mash-up Detention manages to be. Following a clever Mean Girls meets Scream bit of self-reflexivity where a stereotypically vapid valley girl type narrates her own demise, we’re given a mirroring sequence where the audience meet’s their heroine and surrogate Riley Jones (Shanley Caswell), a high schooler so depressed with her lot in life that she tries to kill herself before even getting out of bed, saved only by the playing of her favourite song at that moment on the radio.
In that darkly comedic moment, Kahn shows a love for an audience that has been raised on rapidly changing styles of music and art that can lead to the understandable teenage anxiety that every little setback amounts to the end of the world. What the characters in Kahn’s world begin to realize, however, is that the end of the world is rapidly approaching right under their wildly confused and hyperactive noses. Kahn wants to take the film’s core demographic by the hand and say to them “Guys, I totally get you and how you live your life. Let’s have the silly fun you really deserve.”
Across a time travelling and well assembled series of chapters and side stories – involving body swapping, 90s nostalgia, accidental pornography, an enormous taxidermied bear mascot, an emotionally and physically scarred principal (Dane Cook), positively Cronenbergian body horror that manages to include both a television and someone turning into a fly, and aggressive Canadian “foreign” exchange students – Kahn builds a bizarro world that acts as pure fantasy, but never once tries to convince teens to take it seriously for a second. Rather Kahn wants to craft a well rounded and coherently stitched together pastiche that simultaneously demands the attention of an audience that has to often look very hard within themselves to give it. In a way, this plays like the wholly welcome and equally unholy love child of a John Huges and a Richard Kelly film that was birthed and conceived on a copy of the script to L.A. Confidential. On one hand, that makes it a shame that Detention didn’t get more than a very brief five city theatrical release earlier this spring and one very well received screening through Toronto After Dark, since it would have likely reached the audience that might likely eat it up. On the other hand, home viewing might mean people will likely watch the film more than once to get the full impact of what Kahn is actually striving for.
Each story comes with a compelling hook that always finds a way to tie back into the main story line, and the cast works extra hard both with the comedic and action oriented elements of the film. Caswell doesn’t have it easy playing someone with a film long handicap and rapidly cycling emotions, but it’s great to watch the character succeed. John Hutcherson also does some great work as the almost literally too-cool for school Clapton Davis, a guy who everyone seems to get along with except for the requisite steroid-freak jock. Dane Cook also unwittingly steps into a juicier role than one where he can just coast by on charm and sarcasm as the only real adult in sight for more than ten seconds. As the principal, he plays someone genuinely annoyed by the kids around him, but not exactly perplexed. When Kahn fleshes out the character’s backstory and works it into the fabric of the narrative, it’s very clear what Cook is going for with the character.
It’s being pitched, somewhat unfairly, as a slasher film with J. Hutch front and centre, but this film offers so much more for those who like to have an interesting and immersive story to go along with a scorching pop soundtrack, gruesome torture porn parodies, and teen movie callbacks. Even if you end up hating Detention, which might very well lose viewers over the age of 30 within seconds, there well never be any denying that Kahn’s film is visually and thematically unlike anything else. Forget the pastiche of any of the Scary Movie films or the dreadful knock-offs that festered in their wake. Detention is the final word in millennial teen parody and satire.
The DVD also comes with a bonus “Cheat Mode”, which is a picture-in-picture commentary track where Kahn, his Canadian co-writer Mark Palermo, and most of the cast and crew talk about the making of the film. Much like the movie, it’s insightfull, bullshit free, and moves at a pace that keeps up with the movie’s breakneck speed. Come to think of it, the commentary is worth a second viewing, as well.
LOL (2012, Lisa Azuelos) – It might sound like the faintest of praise, but for a direct to North American DVD remake of a 2008 French film that borders on mumblecore, the Miley Cyrus starring LOL isn’t nearly as off putting as the unfortunate title makes it sound. Despite some admittedly poor and jarring editing choices and a lacklustre third act, writer/director Lisa Azuelos (adapting her own film of the same name) actually makes an attempt to connect to modern teenagers without talking down to them or blunted the confused feelings brought on by raging hormones and a desire for parental independence.
Though focusing primarily on Cyrus’ character of Lola, a Chicago teenager who pines for her ex-boyfriend while her male musically inclined best friend admits his feelings for her, the film amounts to more of an ensemble production about people living and loving in the digital age of online chatting and text messaging. Lola’s mother (Demi Moore) finds herself torn between hooking up in secret with her ex-husband (Thomas Jane) and an extremely charming beat cop (Jay Hernandez). Her best friend (Ashley Greene) finds herself torn between lusting for her hottie trig teacher and a sleazy teenage loner she unwittingly grew attracted to online. There’s also a bit with the school tart that throws a cog into everyone’s plans and the musical kid getting grounded for having a ton of pot in his room, but they doesn’t really add much.
Cyrus and Moore are great on their own, but they work even better in their scenes together as a mother and daughter. The rest of the kids adapt to the material quite well, making it feel natural instead of contrived, and they all get nice assists from the adults who come ready to play, especially Jane, Marlo Thomas (as Moore’s hard partying mother), an appropriately over the top Nora Dunn as the stereotypical “concerned mother,” and Gina Gershon and Fisher Stevens as a married couple who should probably have their own movie.
It’s all fine until the just before the start of the final act when the kids all go to France on a class trip that’s supposed to complicate things, but ends up getting played for cheap, sometimes oddly racist laughs. The ship gets righted somewhat as it pulls into the conclusion, but the crappy editing that often can’t explain where people were and what they were doing at any given time still mars things as a whole. For a movie about people trying to love while constantly in touch with those around them, it’s surprisingly disjointed.
The DVD comes with three congratulatory featurettes that don’t really feel all that insightful, but the commentary track featuring Azuelos and a couple of the teenager girls adds even less and goes on far longer, but there’s some briefly interesting cattiness over the decision to make the film a lot more PG-13.