Assassination of a High School President

At the 2008 Sundance Film Festival, Yari Film Group premiered Brett Simon‘s Assassination of a High School President, a film noir mystery set inside the world of a John Hughes-style High School comedy. (half way between Rian Johnson’s Brick and Veronica Mars) It quickly emerged as one of the underdogs on the schedule to become one of the most buzzed about films at the festival (read some of the review quotes here).

Unfortunately, Yari Film Group was forced into involuntary bankruptcy, and the film has been sitting on the shelf ever since. This has presented a very serious problem for theatrical distribution, and because of the legalities of bankruptcy court, the timing of this economic downturn and a whole slew of other worst-case-scenarios, Assassination might be going direct-to-DVD. Hope isn’t lost quite yet, the bankruptcy court meets in late-July, and the fate of the Yari-owned films will be decided at that time. I hope someone comes to their senses and gives this movie a theatrical release of some kind.

A trailer for the film has finally been released online, but you should be warned… this is far from a good representation of the movie. Actually, it’s quite bad. But with all this legal mess going on, I’m surprised there is a trailer at all. It’s presented in full screen aspect ratio, the sound seems a bit off, and is cut with low royalty soundtrack music. Hopefully those of you who have been interested in this film will be able to see between all the unfortunate trailer production issues. The film is really so much better than this. Read the reviews, a lot of people really loved this film. This trailer cut is a butcher job. Watch the trailer embedded after the jump.

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At the 2008 Sundance Film Festival, Yari Film Group premiered Brett Simon‘s Assassination of a High School President, a film noir mystery set inside the world of a John Hughes-style High School comedy. It quickly emerged as one of the underdogs on the schedule to become one of the most buzzed about films at the festival. Unfortunately, Yari Film Group was forced into involuntary bankruptcy, and the film has been sitting on the shelf ever since. This has presented a very serious problem for theatrical distribution, and because of the legalities of bankruptcy court, the timing of this economic downturn and a whole slew of other worst-case-scenarios, Assassination is on the verge of losing its opportunity to have the theatrical run it deserves.

There might still be hope. Studios are still deciding whether or not they want to take a financial risk by buying the theatrical rights, spending cash on P&A and distributing the movie theatrically. Sony has the home video distribution rights, and from a business standpoint, they think it makes more sense to send the film direct to dvd. But I, like many others, think that Assassination of a High School President deserves to be seen on the big screen. What can you do? Leave your thoughts in the comments below, become a fan of the film on Facebook, and spread the word. Distributors like Sony Pictures Classics, Samuel Goldwyn, Fox Searchlight, etc need to see that there’s an audience out there waiting for an opportunity to see this film.

Why should you care about this movie? Here is what some other people have said about the film:

  • Ken Evans called it “a film that I fell in love with within the first 15 minutes” and “I would have walked right back into the theater to see again if I could have.”
  • Mel Valentin called it “wholly satisfying, enthralling high school-noir every bit the equal of Brick.”
  • MTV said “the film is stuffed with so many rapid-fire laughs that you’ll need to watch it multiple times — especially so you can memorize all the super-quotable lines.”
  • Film School Rejects said it one of those films that makes you “want to run to the top of a mountain and shout its praises”, calling it “smart, sexy and rich with supporting characters that are at some points as interesting as those who get the spotlight.”
  • ComingSoon called it “a funnier and more biting look at high school than any we’ve seen in some time”.
  • UGO calls it “nothing short of brilliant, a hilarious noir-comedy mixture in which each character is more colorful than the last.”
  • FirstShowing says “The comedy never stops, the story is full of twists that keep you on the edge of your seat, and overall this is one of the best balances of mystery and comedy that I’ve seen in ages” and calls it “a great movie that deserves endless appreciation.”
  • Aint It Cool News says “it’s witty characters and style make it the kind of film you’d want to visit a few times over just to hang out with it a little more.”

Many people have drawn comparisons between this film and Rian Johnson’s indie masterpiece Brick, and it would be hard not to. As I wrote in my original Sundance review “Assassination is not a copy of Brick, in fact, it was written before Brick. Imagine if John Hughes had made Chinatown set in a High School. So where Brick was a hardcore film noir story set in the world of high school students, Assassination is a high school movie with a noir mystery storyline.” I always thought of it as a more accessible, more marketable film…

ASSASSINATION OF A HIGH SCHOOL PRESIDENT

Assassination of a High School President is a murder mystery set in a high school, without the murder. Assassination of a High School President will likely be compared to Brick in every review you read, and every conversation you have about te flick. Yet, Assassination is not a copy of Brick, in fact, it was written before Brick. Imagine if John Hughes had made Chinatown set in a High School. So where Brick was a hardcore film noir story set in the world of high school students, Assassination is a high school movie with a noir mystery storyline.

Brett Simon’s debut feature is set in an intricate, hilarious, twisted world set inside St. Donovan’s private school. Not quite the 90’s, 80’s or 70’s, Assassination is set in an alternative universe where cellphones don’t exist, students type on Apple IIe’s, yet references to the Iraq war and Chuck Palahniuk. Reece Daniel Thompson is Bobby Funke, a sophomore reporter for the St. Donovan’s school newspaper. When the SAT tests go missing from the High School Principal’s safe, Funke goes all Woodward and Bernstein, tracking his own private watergate, following the mystery twist after twist. Assassination‘s lightning quick dialogue is nothing short of brilliant. Even Mischa Barton couldn’t ruin this movie, as much as she tried with her O.C.-level acting skills (wait, should the wording still be “skills” when I’m obviously being derogatory?)

The world of this story is so masterfully created. From the production design, to the characters, Assassination feels like a living breathing parallel universe where the characters talk in voice over. While each character has a very specific story purpose, you feel like each character has an extensive back-history, comparable to the characters in the universe of The Simpsons or Groundhog Day. Bruce Willis turn as the crazy High School principal is also worth noting.

If there is one fault, and it is a minor one, it involves the film’s conclusion. Like most mystery stories, the resulting explanation at the end of the story never lives up to the intense build-up. Assassination is no different in that respect. But don’t get me wrong, you will not for a second feel cheated. You will leave the theater after seeing this film knowing you underpaid for your ticket.

Brett Simon has traveled the festival circuit with his short films, including Sundance, where his short film The Sailor’s Girl premiered in 2005. He’s a successful commercial and music video director (which includes the award winning “Somebody Told Me” for The Killers). Unrelated but noteworthy, Screenwriters Tim Calpin and Kevin Jakubowski are former production assistants on South Park.

Assassination is one of the most interesting films I’ve seen in the last couple years.

/Film Rating: 9 out of 10