Friday, April 17

Selah and the Spades Review

Selah and the Spades
Dir: Tayarisha Poe
Starring: Lovie Simone, Jharrel Jerome, Celeste O’Conner, Ana Mulvoy Ten, and Jesse Williams

Early in director Tayarisha Poe’s visually intriguing, youthfully exuberant film “Selah and the Spades”, a group of ethnically diverse young people from different factions within a boarding school sit around a table discussing/arguing which crowd controls the cultural sway in the school. Cinematically, this scene falls in the same structural composition as some gangster, mafia, or yakuza crime films; not one crew wanting to show weakness and no one willing to let go of the power they have amassed. 

This component of power plays the major narrative role in “Selah and the Spades”, as the young factions vie for control as the school year rolls forward. Selah (Lovie Simone) is the commanding, powerful, although insecure leader of the Spades, she is in her senior year and every other faction understands that a power shift is about to happen. 

Paloma (Celeste O’Conner) is a new scholarship student, she is a gifted photographer who finds quick and keen camera eyesight into the power hierarchy within the school. Selah, seeing glimpses of her former self, takes Paloma under her guidance, introducing her directly to the world of The Spades. 

Director Tayarisha Poe and cinematographer Jomo Fray have a confident grasp of the visual design of the film, which is beautifully framed and richly composed of neon and metallic palettes. Moments when characters speak directly to the camera, framed center position sometimes with action choreographed behind them, or when an assemble of characters, shot with altering points of focus to emphasize their emotional perspective, are particularly affecting in displaying the uncaring, immature and dishonest nature of hierarchy in the school.

The faction focused narrative wears thin quickly, as the struggle between the different groups becomes frustratingly cliché, and sometimes completely pointless, as it overwhelms unnecessarily the fascinating elements happening between Selah and Paloma. However, when the shifting relationship between Selah and Paloma takes hold, where Paloma grows confident and Selah becomes resentful, the film develops into something significantly fascinating. This is partly because Lovie Simone and Celeste O’Conner are so great in the roles. 

Ms. Simone brilliantly composes Selah with strong motivations of confidence, arrogance, and ruthlessness while also allowing moments of insecurity, self-doubt, and fear. Ms. O’Conner is also excellent. Paloma is stronger than Selah in different ways, less outwardly fierce and more internally resilient and grounded. Celeste O’Conner composes a naïve sensibility, in the beginning, her eyes big and glowing at the experiences happening around her, but slowly showcases a more assertive and assured performance as her character’s convictions become stronger. Also adding Jharrel Jerome, who was stunning in "Moonlight", as Selah's second-in-command adds some great power struggle moments.

“Selah and the Spades” is a bold statement for director Tayarisha Poe, revealing a creative talent that has an interesting visual style and a distinctive voice for cinema. It’s also a star-making turn for both actors Lovie Simone and Celeste O’Conner. While the film struggles to find its narrative footing, meandering and aimless in its execution at times, the captivating performances and beautiful visual design offer an intriguing perspective on the high school drama. 

Monte’s Rating
3.25 out of 5.00

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