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The high school scenes stir up some authenticity: the horniness, the misfits, the tenure-chasing teachers. John C. Reilly, a fixture on the indie circuit, plays a well-meaning, if somewhat clueless, principal. The movie is a kind of painful Napoleon Dynamite — bizarre in its own right, but with an undeniable sense of anguish. We are sadly captivated watching Terri’s chubby fingers try to delicately set mousetraps, seeing his remorse when they’ve done their job, and then his wide-eyed celebration when a hawk consumes the dead rodents. He basks in the circle of life, in the realities of the wilderness (just like high school).

Director Azazel Jacobs keeps the image coated in low, austere tones, like the inside of a hearth. The style may be repetitive, but it’s never redundant. It suits the theme of the lost and lonely: “The feeling is no feeling.” “She’s dying of death.” High school is a droning, circular time. The plot never rises above the customary coming-of-age tale but does include enough quirks to make the familiar story seem fresh. Note in particular a superb scene of teenage drunkenness that calls to mind the Crooks’s room chapter in Of Mice and Men. The film concludes on an endearing note but never trivializes the struggles involved. The pervasive cruelty of high school shows just how far a kind act can go.

★★★


Reviewed in the movie capsules: Blank City and Monte Carlo.

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