Selah and the Spades is directed by Tayarisha Poe; it’s her first feature film. The movie stars Lovie Simone, Celeste O'Connor, Jharrel Jerome, Gina Torres, and Jesse Williams.
Selah is one of many students attending a boarding school, in which many “factions” are responsible for providing illegal substances and activities to fellow students, far away from the watchful eyes of the faculty. Selah heads the Spades, a faction largely responsible for drug distribution, and as she’s a senior, it’ll be her last year at the school, so she needs someone who can carry on her legacy. She finds a potential successor in the form of Paloma, a girl more innocent to the ways of the world but with her own ambitious attitude. But will the transfer of power go as planned, or will other complications enter the fray?
Selah and the Spades had its premiere at Sundance in January of 2019, and a little over a year later, on April 17, 2020, it debuts on Amazon Prime. While the movie is far from perfect, it’s superbly and diversely cast, with excellent performances all around, and while moviegoers are stuck at home with movie theaters closed, the movie should make for a fine diversion.
The greatest strength of Selah and the Spades is in its titular character, portrayed by Lovie Simone. Right from the get-go, this beautiful young lady establishes herself as a leader with a take-no-shit attitude. Beautiful, confident, aggressive, and willing to do what needs to be done to protect her legacy and maintain what few friendships she’s got, Simone owns this movie from start to finish. The dynamic between her and Paloma is the most interesting relationship in the movie, in that the two come from completely different worlds, with clashing attitudes despite their want to do what’s best for their activities. When Selah’s once-unshakable confidence is put to the test, seeing her unhinged makes for some entertaining edge-of-your-seat viewing.
The remainder of the cast fares equally well, even if I admittedly was not familiar with most of these actors and actresses prior to seeing the film. The school setting is handled surprisingly well, and I found myself far more tense and at attention than I’d expect to be in a movie that revolves around high school life. There’s school drama… then there’s what you see unfold in Selah and the Spades. In a running time of just under 100 minutes, there’s plenty of suspense, with twists and turns aplenty.
That said, I can’t quite give the movie full marks. It bites off more than it can chew, with far too many factions and characters. For one example, Selah apparently has a troubled relationship with her mother, but it never comes off as anything more than a B-story which needed further development. Likewise, the faculty characters come off as one-dimensional villains who barely get any screen time. The biggest sin the move commits is how and where it ends, at the most abrupt and inconvenient place possible (though I’ll avoid spoilers here), and taking the Apocalypse Now approach to closing a film doesn't work here. Apparently, Amazon Prime, in addition to releasing the film, will also be creating a series based on the same story. Personally, I believe the story has better potential to work as a series than as a film due to the sheer number of characters and stories to be told. Only time will tell.
Selah and the Spades is an entertaining film worth checking out when it hits Amazon Prime despite its flaws, largely for its powerful heroine and her relationship with a would-be successor. Marginally recommended. Since you’re stuck at home while movie theaters are closed, why not watch it?
Rating: Three stars out of four.
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