A semi-rude thing to say to someone sharing their feelings would be “everyone’s got issues.” Way to dismiss the person at-hand pouring their heart out just to get a selfish word in. Yes, others have their difficulties, but when someone has the floor and the courage to speak, they should have one’s full attention.
That courtesy of active listening is lost on the fictional Olympia High School students collected for a special and punitive session of Saturday school during the first half of The Class. Honest admissions are met with verbal digs and seemingly every variation of eye-rolling and scoffing body language in the book. Each has their reasons for being there and addressing those are a bit of the entry fee into completing the task at hand given to them by their drama teacher Ms. Long, played by entertainer-turned-actress Debbie Gibson.
During this early portion of The Class, it is easy to find many unlikable character traits among the assembled rainbow of teen stereotypes as they bitch and complain about their ruined weekend. True to form, you’ve got your skater/surfer type Jason (Charlie Gillespie of Julie and the Phantoms), alpha male jock Max (rising TV actor Colin McCalla), the flamboyant dresser Casey (Lyric Ross of This is Us), the observant middle-caste Allie (newcomer Juliette Celozzi), the unassuming good girl Jesse (Cobra Kai’s Hannah Kepple), and the closet alcoholic Michael (the debuting Michael Sebastian) making violent threats. The gang’s all here (filmed on the campus of Elmhurst University), and they couldn’t match less if they tried.
Ms. Long has tasked them to script out a unique stage character that may or may not be based on themselves. When that’s complete, they will work with an assigned partner to craft a dialogue. Even before getting to work and without missing a beat, the disruptive and competitive put-downs fill the air, led by the bickering Jason and Max.
Not to sound like the red-assed administrator Mr. Faulk, played not-so-coincidentally by one Anthony Michael Hall, governing this gathering, but nothing is going to get solved with that kind of dismissive attitude. Something has to change. Behavior needs to shift. It starts with being heard. That acknowledgement begins with Ms. Long. Quite unlike Mr. Faulk, she is an adult willing to listen, clean up the trash talk, and create a safe space– all of which offers a nice performance opportunity for Debbie Gibson.
The issues stirred up by The Class are topical. Society loves to discount the boundless conveniences the teens of today have compared to previous generations raised on far fewer luxuries. However, the magnification of communication reach has only fanned the flames of medial prevalence. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 49.5% of adolescents have had a mental health disorder at some point in their lives. Folks, the prevalence is real. It is delicate and found in this very classroom.
Along the way in The Class, changes of attitude percolate and courage grows. Telling the truth is hard, of course. Twists emerge of what are the real troubles and who they belong to among the presented student ensemble. In these moments, the actors (particularly the more experienced of the bunch including Gillespie, McCalla, and Kepple) get their organized and built-up moments to shine and, sure enough, some of those revelations may surprise you.
The hitches of The Class are execution and concentration. In regards to the former, as is so often the case lately in teen movies and television shows, the chosen cast is composed of talents in their mid-20s who are unconvincing as teens in both looks and behavior. Their confrontations with authority (mostly against the checked-out Anthony Michael Hall), often laced with unchecked profanity, would never fly in a real school situation such as this.
The actors overplay their assigned flaws and dial their quirks to 12 when a nice medium 5 would do. By not reining those tendencies in, the drama becomes overly frantic because every bombshell feels like it’s playing explosive one-upmanship with the one that came before it in an unnecessary way. Even less likely is the convenience that one soul-baring afternoon stuck in Saturday School is all the storytelling and life-altering triage it would take to make everything hunky-dory. The conveniences pile up to an uncertain narrative future.
To credit the premise written and directed by former actor Nicholas Celozzi (The Legitimate Wiseguy) as a homage to The Breakfast Club, The Class extends pertinent issues and bold talking points. Any of them, on paper, could be found in a cross-section of teens today, making for a relatable dramatic experience for an open-hearted audience of fellow students (and even teachers). However, there’s a limit reached in The Class where even the issues have their issues. Nevertheless, the effort is commendable.