School’s Out: The Life Of a Gay High School in Texas

Produced for (and already broadcast on) MTV, docu editor Jeremy Simmons' directorial bow "School's Out" offers an intriguing subject somewhat compromised by a too glossy, music-vid-style approach. A look at a turbulent academic year at a struggling Texas high school for gay and lesbian students doesn't provide insight into how an institution like that functions.

Produced for (and already broadcast on) MTV, docu editor Jeremy Simmons’ directorial bow “School’s Out” offers an intriguing subject somewhat compromised by a too glossy, music-vid-style approach. A look at a turbulent academic year at a struggling Texas high school for gay and lesbian students doesn’t provide insight into how an institution like that functions. Instead, focus is soap-operatic, focusing on a handful of kids a la “The Real World.”. As such, it’s a sympathetic if sometimes contrived-feeling portrait of particularly difficult adolescent growing pains. Outside gay fests, exposure will probably be limited to global MTV affiliates.

Only 10 teens are attending Walt Whitman High outside Dallas this annum, endangering the unaccredited school’s survival. More drop out during pic’s progress — one is suspended for sexual conduct on-premises with the school’s youngest student, another leaves because he thinks the principal hates him.

Others include two crossdressing boys who each decide to begin taking hormones toward an ultimate sex-change goal; and much-facially-pierced Angel, whose girlfriend moves from North Carolina to join her. Typically immature yet forced to weigh complex identity issues, individual protags (who’ve mostly been sent to Walt Whitman from hometowns in other states) are interesting enough. But “School’s Out” is disinterested in the contextualization that might have deepened these portraits — viewers meet very few parents and glean little about what the students left behind or how they currently spend their after school hours.

On occasion pic seems to provoke confrontations and dramatic situations, edging toward the not-so-realistic nature of “reality TV” shows from “Real World” to “Survivor.” The female principal aside, there’s too little input from adult Walt Whitman staff or supporters, let alone from the surrounding community. (Postscript informs that the school did duly bounce back with larger enrollment for the next year.)

Filling in some of those gaps would have better served feature than sequences that pad out runtime with protags mooning about to the soundtracked strain of songs by Coldplay, Radiohead, Travis, et al. Tech aspects are slickly handled.

School's Out: The Life Of a Gay High School in Texas

Docu

Production: An MTV News & Docs presentation of World of Wonder production. Produced by Thairin Smothers. Executive producers, Fenton Bailey, Randy Barbato. Directed, edited by Jeremy Simmons.

Crew: Camera (color, DV), Patric Alva; sound designer, Jim Corbett. Reviewed at San Francisco Lesbian & Gay Film Festival, June 27, 2003. Running time: 69 MIN. Narrator: Wilson Cruz.

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