Movie review: Selah and the spades

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Lovie Simone in Selah and the Spades

Lovie Simone in Selah and the spades
Photo: Courtesy of Amazon Studios / Courtesy of Amazon Studios

Selah (Lovie Simone), the queen of flint bees at the heart of Tayarisha Poe’s captivating beginnings, is a senior at an elite boarding school in Pennsylvania. She is a student A and leader of the team of spirits, the envy and admiration of her classmates. She is also a drug trafficker, a role she occupies for the power that accompanies her rather than for money – money being something she and the majority of her classmates do not seem to miss. Power is the only currency to consider at Haldwell, who is technically led by the director played by Jesse Williams, but who is in practice overseen by five cliques designated by everyone as factions. Each faction oversees a different aspect of the student body’s underground economy, from games of chance to cheating and parties, to keeping the administration in the dark. The Spades run the illicit substances and Selah manages the Spades, which means that she effectively runs the prestigious institution in which the characters in the film are enrolled.

Selah and the spades is a welcome entry to the canon of movies about high school as a battlefield, which extends from the satirically anthropological styles of Bad girls to the supernaturally improved dramas of The job (whose next remake will feature Simone). While his Pennsylvania preparatory school setting could recall other chronicles of a rich child like Cruel intentions, the film is closer in tone and spirit to the 2005 neo-black of Rian Johnson Brick. Poe doesn’t superimpose hardboiled traditions on his teenage machinations like Johnson does, but he treats his criminal families for children with the same ironic seriousness as his characters. It’s not a gangster movie as we tell prep school kids – it’s more like a movie to point out that gangsters are just grown-up teens. The disloyal are excommunicated, the traitors beaten. The first time newcomer Paloma (Celeste O’Connor) returns from her role as a police officer, her knuckles are bloody. “I didn’t know it would hurt so much,” she said to Selah, as elated as she was shocked.

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