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Cooley High

Posted by martinteller on February 3, 2013

Leroy “Preach” Jackson (Glynn Turman) is a student of Cooley High in Chicago.  He writes poetry and dreams of being a Hollywood writer, but neglects his studies.  He spends most of his time hanging out with his friend Richard “Cochise” Morris (Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs): cutting school, shooting craps, chasing girls, going to parties, smoking a little grass and drinking a little wine.  He falls for the beautiful Brenda (Cynthia Davis), and manages to charm her.  And then he blows it.  It’s the usual teenage shenanigans… until he gets in trouble with the wrong guys.

For the most part, it’s an amusing coming-of-age story, with an African-American perspective.  The episodic nature of the film keeps things lively, I’m not sure it would be any more interesting if it had a straight A-B-C throughline.  Some events have later repercussions, some are just standalone mini-stories.  Contained within are funny little moments, like their teacher Mr. Mason (Garrett Morris) smoking a joint with a police officer.

In many ways, it’s a mixed bag.  Turman and Hilton-Jacobs and Davis are all quite personable… it’s hard not to like these characters.  These have a pleasant, easy-going rapport.  Other performances in the movie range from fair to shoddy.  The soundtrack is loaded with great Motown songs (the story takes place in 1964) but tends to lean too heavily on the obvious hits.  There are genuinely humorous bits… and then there’s potty jokes.  The film generally avoids too much cliché, but has a painfully hacky love scene.  And then there’s a tragic event at the end, which knocks the film off its feet for a few minutes.  It’s not that the event is unwarranted, but the way it’s handled feels tonally out of step.  Then the film rights itself with a more appropriate final scene…. and blows it with one of those awful “Where are they now?” freeze-frame montages.  Those things never work, though I might make an exception for Animal House.

I know that sounds like a lot of griping (while I’m at it, why does Preach want to be a Hollywood screenwriter when all he writes is poetry?) but I did enjoy most of this movie.  These kids feel pretty genuine and their situations are both relatable and entertaining.  With its scattered problems, I can’t give it a strong recommendation, but it gets more right than wrong.  Rating: Good (72)

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One Response to “Cooley High”

  1. […] Martin Teller’s Movie Reviews, Wool and Wheel, Démodé, Criterion Collection, Filmosphere, Basil Rathbone, Classic Film […]

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