20-years-ago a group of Drama Club high school friends went on a retreat together. Now they’re getting back together for an anniversary meetup. The friends have all stayed in touch via social media, but they haven’t seen each other all that much. As you might have expected, while many things have changed, others have stayed very much the same.
The previously nerdy Nathan has now muscled up and he’s not going to take the bully-ish antics of Luke anymore. However, the increasingly conservative Luke has his own issues, as he’s due to go to prison soon for white collar fraud. The popular Elle is now married, and while her husband doesn’t seem to mind the fact she’s slept with three of her old friends, Elle may take things too far. Hannah is now a born again Christian who’s saving her virginity for marriage (even though she’s had sex before), and may have a soft spot for one of her old friends.
Cory meanwhile is unhappily married, and the wife he’s brought along for the reunion isn’t about to hide this from his friends. Then there’s Aaron, who now owns their drama teacher’s old home, and has a few secrets he hasn’t told his old friends about.
The Drama Club is the sort of movie I really wanted to like. It’s heartfelt, cares about its characters and the actors give it their all (and most put in pretty good performances). However, the whole thing will turn on whether you think these people are annoying or not, and therefore whether you feel empathy for them or not.
The film wants to explore some fairly complex ideas about growing towards middle-age, and the reunion being a situation where old, more teenage patterns, behaviours and relationships re-emerge. There is then the juxtaposition between people letting their younger selves out, but with the problems and experiences of older people. The film puts some effort into trying to make this work, including occasionally swapping the adult actors with their teen counterparts, but still going through the issues of their older selves.
However, for me, it didn’t quite work, with the result that what might seem typical for teens sometimes comes across as rather selfish and self-indulgent in someone older, and without enough self-awareness it makes many of the characters unlikable and rather needy. Indeed, if the movie was about a group of people learning how the way they act towards each other needs adjustment, it might have worked, but instead everyone constantly gets forgiven for actions that sometimes edge towards being cruel.
This might not have been so apparent if the script had found better ways for the characters to reveal their issues, relationships and behaviour patterns. However, what is supposed to be the camaraderie of old friends who don’t have the filters and self-censorship of those who don’t feel they know each other as well, often comes across as rudeness or not feeling true to how people really act.
The most dramatic part of the movie comes via a bit of bisexuality and then the revelation of why the reunion has really taken place. While the scenes themselves are quite good (if a little melodramatic), the aftermath feels incredibly convenient, ignoring the enormity of one of the things that have happened and which requires serious help, so that it can concentrate on the bisexuality and a few other problems that emerge following a night of serious drinking. Indeed, quite how little attention the friends pay to what Aaron is going through inadvertently underlines what a bunch of self-centred jerks they can be.
Even the addition of an unexpected bisexual encounter and one of the characters being gay ends up feeling slightly tokenistic, purely because of how little the issues raised are really dealt with – or at least how they’re tied up or ignored is rather convenient ways.
It means The Drama Club gets an ‘A’ for effort, but a ‘C-‘ for execution. There’s plenty of interesting ideas, some good acting and it manages to sometimes be quite witty and sometimes pushes towards things that are rarely dealt with on screen but are well worthwhile looking at. However, too often it doesn’t feel quite real and it’s often difficult to feel much empathy for the characters, which sadly means it isn’t what it could have been. It’s obvious it doesn’t mean for its characters to come across badly, merely flawed, but for me it didn’t work.
Overall Verdict: Some will probably really enjoy The Drama Club, but I couldn’t get past the feeling that it was largely about self-indulgent jerks, and that the film wasn’t dealing all that well with the issues it was bringing up.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac