Kids In America
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?
A young high school student finds himself expelled when he openly criticizes school policy and decides to enlist his friends to take the school and its ambitious principal down.
IS IT A GOOD MOVIE?
Do you ever find that you have something interesting and really important to say, but you just canít put it into words? Thatís KIDS IN AMERICA. Writers Andrew Shaifer and Josh Stolberg have some real insight and wit as a writing team, but their script needed much more work. Itís almost as if they wrote a first draft but instead of fine tuning it, re-writing it till every false moment was excised, they just used it as the final script, warts and all. Big mistake, as the smart and funny bits here are overpowered by large gaps and preachy dialogue. And itís okay if the characters donít know what they want to say (especially in the teen genre!), but at least let them admit it. (A technique used in the brilliant youth angst movie PUMP UP THE VOLUME, to which the filmmakers are obviously fans, casting that filmsí female lead Samantha Mathis in a cameo here!) Teen films are hard enough for both a filmmaker to make original and an audience to be able to stomach, so it has to start from a place of honesty and this film seems to want to bypass all that. Not to mention that the direction here is B-movie 101; long pauses, uncomfortable angles, and no sexual chemistry between the leads. KIDS IN AMERICA was reportedly shot in 22 days and unfortunately, it shows.
As for the acting, the rather young and fresh cast couldíve shined here, but they needed a director with a knack for molding youth and inexperience into something real. (See Peter Weir and Danny Boyle!) So all the kids just easily slip into their stereotypical roles, giving nothing more then surface performances. (And itís these very stereotypes that the film seems to be rallying against!) It doesnít help (except maybe for the DVD sales!) that the film has been crammed full of ďnameĒ actors in smaller roles Ė Adam Arkin, Rosanna Arquette, Elizabeth Perkins, George Wendt, Nicole Richie, the list goes on and on Ė but they are no more then live product placement to get people to rent this movie. Itís ironic, there was a point in the film where (out of nowhere!) the filmmakers decide to parody famous teen flick moments; the kissing rain scene in SAY ANYTHING, the cake table top scene in SIXTEEN CANDLES, and the Phoebe Cates bathing suit scene in FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH, and it made me nostalgic for just how great those films really were. They were kind of jerky and juvenile, but there was a touching sweetness, a celebration of youth that was undeniable. In its race to get made, KIDS IN AMERICA ended up forgetting whatís really important, what made those few teen flicks something really special - it all starts with the script.
Commentary (with Director Josh Stolberg, Producer/Writer/Actor Andrew Shaifer and actors Gregory Smith, Stephanie Sherrin, Alex Anfanger, Caitlin Wachs, Emy Coligado, Crystal Grant, and Chris Morris): Completely and utterly unintelligible. In fact, I only listed all the commentary names here to show you how many people were present during this jumbled, loud and chaotic mess. Rule 1: Never have this many people involved in a commentary, you never know who the hell is talking. Rule 2: Donít interrupt a director talking about interesting stories while making the film, as this is why most of us listen to these damn things in the first place! (No-no interruptions include yelling, screaming, yawning, burping and making obnoxious snoring noises Ė which are all unfortunately included here!) Rule 3: Never give your opinion on what you think of the film (unless you hate it!), never open your mouth unless you have something really interesting to say and for Godís sake, know what you are talking about. (One of the young actresses, talks about the birthday cake table kiss from SIXTEEN CANDLES, identifying it as being from the film PRETTY IN PINK!) This is not a commentary track, its pure unbridled torture, so unless you are into S & M, avoid at all costs!
Outtakes (9:15): A collage of all goofy moments, some funny, some not so funny. Worth watching? If you have nothing else to do.
This also has a forced batch of Trailers, which start when you choose to play the film. (I hate that, stop it immediately!) They include SCHOOL OF LIFE, PHIL THE ALIEN and CONFESSIONS OF A SOCIOPATHIC SOCIAL CLIMBER. (I finally know what they mean by scraping the bottom of the barrel!)
Itís funny how the DVD box for this film has Roger Ebert giving his notorious thumbs up, saying that KIDS IN AMERICA is a high school comedy with brains. I would say that he is somewhat correct, but itís more like half a brain and has a bad case of ADD. This is a film that had potential to speak to young people, but instead hyperactively slaps so many different ideas together, that itís hard to pick out the good from the bad. Iím with the late Gene Siskel who once said "Roger, you canít like everything!Ē The raw and unfiltered opinion Ė if KIDS IN AMERICA does indeed represent actual kids in America, itís time to break out the Ritalin.