Selah and The Spades review – a bipartisan satire

April 15, 2020 (Last updated: last month)
M.N. Miller 0
Amazon Prime, Film, Film Reviews


Poe’s debut feature is a highly stylized and engaging Juvenalian satire about today’s political climate that plays it too safe with its finale.

Early on in Tayarisha Poe’s debut feature, the protagonist looks into the camera and confidently laments, “Cover your shoulders, cover your legs, because they can’t tell boys to keep it in their pants.” They are taught to change themselves for the sake of other’s biological hormones they can’t control; the contempt of the very accepted social norm of appeasing anyone but themselves sets the overall tone for Selah and The Spades. That titular character, Selah, is played with marvelous, even brooding moxie by Lovie Simone (Greenleaf), who carries the film up until the play is the all too safe finale.

Poe’s script is a character study set is a highly stylized Juvenalian satire (so much so, it’s sometimes like looking at an overtly specific Tumblr page) about today’s political climate in a realistic setting — high school. Now, on the surface, this has been done before in films like Heathers and Cruel Intentions but aspires to a much higher plane to be taken seriously, like Alan Payne’s Election.

With the current administration’s penchant for more visceral than ever before, bipartisan politics attacks their opponents, including their own, making Selah feel almost fresh, even relevant instead of tired. The satirization of the ones in power (Simone) and the idealists (Wetlands’ Celeste O’Connor), and the ones just trying to survive (When They See Us Emmy-award winner Jharrel Jerome) crackles with bitter wit and an intelligent story; operating on varying levels that combines components of the social movements #MeToo and Black Lives Matter that go hand in hand.

Selah and the Spades have several exciting character studies that still tend to be rare on streaming platforms but have an issue in that Simone’s Selah represents one of few potential female anti-heroes streaming anywhere today that the film doesn’t fully embrace. Every movie doesn’t need to redeem its characters. I would argue it would have been a much stronger film because of it.

The fatal flaw is here, though, is the safe way the film wraps up its story, losing its nerve and lacking a killer instinct that the film needs. Something uneven about it feels unnatural, like an exit strategy for sequels or launch for a possible Amazon Prime television series with the stars attached — which could have still been accomplished with a touch more creativity without sacrificing the completion of a greater ideal. At the very least, life goes on ending that didn’t need to bring everyone together.

After all, bipartisan politics’ job isn’t to compromise a belief. It’s to win it.

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