The social world of a Pennsylvania private school is the backdrop for this flat drama

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We all know high school is a theater of tragedy, but the clumsy "Selah and The Spades" is unconvincing in its attempt to wring Shakespearean drama out of the teenage clique system.

Lovie Simone is Selah, the head of the Spades, one of five factions who control the underground social aspects of the student body at a fancy-shmancy Pennsylvania prep school; Celeste O'Connor is Paloma, her protégé. 

The Spades are in charge of all the booze, pills and drugs for all student functions, while other groups control the party and gambling aspects of student life.

Meetings are held between the leaders of the groups, like the heads of the Five Families; writer-director Tayarisha Poe acts as if this is all of very high consequence, because in high school it is, but outside of that lens it all seems quite silly. 

The antecedent here is Rian Johnson's "Brick," an honest-to-goodness high school noir where the students all acted like characters out of a '30s-style gumshoe novel. "Selah and the Spades" is similarly stylish but far less effective; it winds up playing like a misbegotten hybrid of "Clueless" and "New Jack City."

The tone here isn't fun or playful or tongue-in-cheek, "Selah" takes itself dead seriously, which makes its world even less inviting. (As an indication of its aspirations, it's set against a backdrop where a production of "Macbeth" is unfolding.) 

Further, there's no one to like or identify with in this parade of melodrama, and there's no sense of a world outside its tiny point of view. "Selah and the Spades" is teen angst run afoul. 

agraham@detroitnews.com

@grahamorama

'Selah and the Spades'

GRADE: C-

Rated R: for teen drug content, and language

Running time: 97 minutes

On Amazon Prime

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