So Shoot Me

Ideas are dangerous things. Put a few in the wrong hands, and you never know what they'll be turned into.

Season of Youth takes place in a prestigious prep school in New York City. Beginning his first semester there, principled black student Flint is harrassed by the WASP-y Taylor, who seems inspired by the characters in Cruel Intentions, though in a less glamorous way.

Flint is haunted by the death of his cop father (Jesse L. Martin), which underlies his drive to succeed. He runs from the kids in his lower class neighborhood, as if even being near them is a kind of taint. We've seen this anti-stereotype stereotype before, so good it hurts, and he should be a good fit at his new school, but of course it's not going to be that easy.

Taylor is the most eloquent of racists. His left-handed compliments may sound like Dickens, but there's a sadistic edge in him that's not going to be satisfied by a victory in verbal sparring. From the start, he tries to manipulate Flint, who seems always at a disadvantage for dealing with the unwanted attention.

The lesser characters include Flint's noble mother, and Taylor's younger sister, who has eyes for Flint. There's also a history teacher who exists for both comic relief and to provide, surprisingly enough, a historical context for class struggle. In this class, he assigns to the students to research and give a speech from a significant figure. We are treated to these student-given speeches at regular intervals. It's a tricky thing for an independent film to do, having some less-than-experienced actors, acting like students who are trying to portray famous people. In a way it works, but that's because the speeches are almost solely about ideology, rather than character.

There's inventive ideas in the interplay between Flint and Taylor - this could even make a great play, given the wide expanses in which they are alone on screen. The plot, though, is largely a rehash of things already seen, and done better. It gets better toward the end, and the climactic sequence manages to save itself from the worst kind of melodrama - but not without making us squirm in dread of the possibilities.

I think the biggest mistake here is the same made by so many political ideologues - by painting the antagonist with such villainous, inhuman strokes, the movie is ultimately undermined. Is there supposed to be a message of tolerance here? Not if the portrayal of your target audience suggests they'd never listen. For all the fervor, something must be intended that's more significant than just "shit happens", but what else is there? You'll meet a few jerks in your life, and there's some good and some bad ways of dealing them. If they'd gone for a straight action or psychological drama, we could have seen these two duke it out like gunfighters in the old west, and that could have worked, in its own way. Sadly, there is too much sentiment and significance floating through the air to see the story clearly at all.

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