Filmgoers who admired the freshness and energy of Spike Lee’s She’s Gotta Have It are bound to be thrown by his followup School Daze. A loosely connected series of musical set-pieces exploring the experience of blackness at an all-black university, film is a hybrid of forms and styles that never comes together in a coherent whole. Surprising, too, is the almost dour tone of the film.
Story, such as it is, focuses on the conflict between the militant activists on campus and the goodtime boys of Gamma Phi Gamma fraternity which comes to a head during homecoming week. Leading the freshman pledges class and begging for acceptance is the diminutive Half-Pint (Spike Lee), caught between the demands of fraternity life and the responsibilities of being black advanced by his cousin Dap Dunlap (Larry Fishburne).
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Making life miserable for Half-Pint is his pledge-master and Dap’s arch-rival Julian Eaves (Giancarlo Esposito). On the female side, it’s the Gamma Rays vs the Jigaboos illustrating the tensions between the light-skinned, straight-haired blacks and the dark-skinned sisters.
As a director, Lee fails to strike the right note between realism and fantasy, and the heavy subject matter just falls with a thud. As an actor, however, Lee does a good job creating a sort of black babe in the woods.