Review: Selah and the Spades (2019 Sundance Film Festival)

Title: Selah and the Spades
MPAA Rating: Not Yet Rated
Director: Tayarisha Poe
Starring: Lovie Simone, Celeste O’Connor, Jharrel Jerome
Runtime: 1 hr 37 mins

What It Is: In the prestigious Haldwell boarding school there are five factions that run the school. The biggest of those is the Spades run by Saleh Summers (Simone). Saleh is a smart, beautiful and tenacious the perfect ringleader of all the drugs, alcohol and other fun stuff that comes through Haldwell. With her right-hand man Maxxie (Jerome) the will use their charm and wits to assure the other four play ball and their cunning and ruthlessness to cauterize the legacy they’ve built. Now, in need of an heir Selah might just have found her in the unlikeliest of places.

What We Think: Speaking from a story perspective I think this is a unique spin. Tayarisha Poe’s script has some whip-smart dialogue. It’s just too bad her work behind the camera isn’t nearly as strong. Often out of focus it’s hard to make sense of the visuals when the camera has no focus. I think Lovie Simone is a star in the making. Even if the acting is a bit stilted at times. That brings me to that issue. Most of the actors here fail to convey their characters in a realistic light. It borrows some of its quirk and story from the Rian Johnson classic Brick. Too bad it’s only the surface level stuff.

Our Grade: C+, By no means the worst film I saw at Sundance (that’d be Wounds) I consider this one a true disappointment. It has the elements here to be something great. It squanders some of those elements. Overall I recommend this one to anyone who wants to see a first time director do her thing. I’d like her to have another crack at it. I think that Tayarisha Poe has potential so I look forward to her next project. It is just too bad the growing pains are here for all to see.

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