[DOC NYC 2022] MY SO-CALLED HIGH SCHOOL RANK -- A Compelling Look at the Modern Educational Landscape
Review by Sean Boelman
Everyone in the world was affected by the changes our society has had to make over the past few years, but few have had their experiences altered as much as students. My So-Called High School Rank takes a unique angle to explore how a group of students have been forced to adjust to the changing landscape of the world.
The film tells the unlikely success story of the musical Ranked, written by two high school drama teachers to be performed by their students, only for it to receive a national spotlight when it debuts weeks after the college admissions bribery scandal breaks. In a way, this is like a real-life High School Musical, but much more compelling than that description may sound.
Although the documentary is telling the story of the musical, it also takes the time to discuss the very real issue that inspired the musical in the first place: excessive competition in the United States educational system. Although a few other movies have made the “let kids be kids,” argument, few have been able to put their finger on what the cause of this phenomenon is quite as well as My So-Called High School Rank.
The other main storyline in the film centers around the creators of the play, David Taylor Gomes and Kyle Holmes, as they attempt to stage a major professional production of the show. Unfortunately, these efforts would be disrupted by the current events of the world, making it a portion of the story that likely would have been better off being cut.
Some of the documentary’s political elements in the movie definitely feel shoe-horned in. There is a portion of the film about how the subjects became involved in the Black Lives Matter movement in the wake of the death of George Floyd, and while this did become a significant part of their identities, this is such an afterthought in the narrative that it couldn’t possibly do justice to the topic.
However, much of the second half of the movie pivots to focusing on these students’ experiences despite the COVID-19 pandemic. Although the parts that discuss how these student productions of Ranked were forced to adapt to the circumstances are interesting, there are so many other documentaries that have come out about students reacting to the COVID-19 pandemic that the film begins to feel too typical.
While there is no denying that the content of the movie is very compelling, the execution is somewhat amateurish in nature — disappointing considering that the characters have impressive resumes. As a whole, everything about the production feels rushed and hectic, which is likely because of the fact that the film is far less important than the musical itself.
My So-Called High School Rank tries to encompass too many sides of its story, but it’s still a fascinating story nonetheless. A documentary about high school theater kids has no business being as interesting as this.
My So-Called High School Rank screened as part of the 2022 edition of DOC NYC, which runs in-person from November 9-17 and online November 9-27.