‘Shakespeare High,’ reviewed by Marshall Fine


There seem to be an endless series of student competitions about which to make documentaries – and any number have been made over the years. From “Spellbound” (about the National Spelling Bee) to last year’s “Louder Than a Bomb” (about high-school poetry slams) to “Ten9Eight: Shoot for the Moon” (about a high-school entrepreneur contest) to “Mad Hot Ballroom” (about elementary-school ballroom-dancing contests), these films use the tension and suspense of competition to provide a window into the lives of the students themselves and the adults who work with them.

The latest is “Shakespeare High,” a documentary about an annual southern California theatrical competition in which high school teams compete at presenting condensed versions of Shakespearean plays, each told through either a single scene or a new interpretation (often using hip-hop and other music).

The film draws its star power from the alumni of one particular school: Chatsworth High, which produced such alumni as Kevin Spacey, Val Kilmer and Mare Winningham. They all turn up to talk to the camera and, at one point, Spacey and Winnngham visit their alma mater.

Most of the film, however, is devoted to following the run-up to the state tournament, focusing on a handful of schools. There are wealthy, privileged school, schools from tough urban neighborhoods and, of course, schools from tiny towns who turn out to be the most surprising competitors.

This review continues on my website.

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