"What this came from was Columbine. I know that's a very strange thing. I'd read this book on Columbine, and the story we'd always heard was 'these kids were bullied' and that made them go out and kill everybody, but the reality is, if you read the backstory behind Columbine, those two boys had dates, they had families. It's not like two serial killers hooked up. What happened was they felt so entitled to their own problems that they thought their problems were bigger than anyone else's. There was this inability to see outside their own world."
Whether or not Detention's genre segregation = adolescent introversion metaphor works will be up to the audience. It's even stranger onscreen than it sounds, laid out via barely linear editing techniques and a mixed-media presentation that feels specifically tailored to audiences the approximate age of its characters; an audience that's used to absorbing information and entertainment at the speed of light and in multiple streams broken up across multiple sources, devices and browser windows.
"Kids today perceive information different than kids 20 years ago. Information is processed so much faster. 20 years ago MTV came out and people were like 'Oooh! They're cutting so fast!' Watch an MTV video today and you're like 'Oh my god, this is so f***ing slow!'"
"I've been making music videos for 20 years, so from a young age I've been tied in to that culture. The difference is, by the time they're 30 a lot of people hop off popular culture, but by the nature of my job I'm still being sent new music and such."
To hear Kahn tell it, this is wholly intentional, an outgrowth of his job's requirement that he remain actively engaged with contemporary a youth culture that other grownups casually dismiss as inattentive or shallow.
"Short attention span? No, I call that multitasking. [Contemporary teenagers] are smarter, more put together, and you're more aware of the media. You're superior on every f***ing level. Short attention span? Yeah, that's because you're so much more educated, you have to be aware of so much, you get bored easily."
I don't know that I share Kahn's boundless enthusiasm for the prospects of Generation Y, but the fact that he doesn't actively hate contemporary teenagers unquestionably gives Detention a sense of heart underneath all the metatext and self-reference. Most present set high school movies are either casually out-of-touch with teenage reality, while the smart ones tend to focus on wise-beyond-their-years characters (see: Mean Girls) who function as avatars of adult screenwriters rolling their eyes at kids today. For all the genre-crossing weirdness, Detention's optimistic take on the young people of 2012 is the most refreshing thing about it.
"I like the kids today. I like the kids today better than the 90's kids. You are the least racist, least sexist, least homophobic, least everything ... you f***ing love a black president. You are the most progressive people ever on the history of the planet. So am I positive about you guys? Absolutely!"
Detention is going to be an incredibly divisive movie, providing that enough people see it to be divided over it in the first place. It's a strange, unwieldy creature of a film, and in a way it's like watching an intricate structure collapse in reverse; what initially looks like a too-hip-for-the-room jumble of references, subplots and out of left field jokes is revealed as a very deliberate assemblage only after every last piece of each mystery has fallen into place. It's extremely plausible that the facebook generation stylistic conceits like rapidly shifting onscreen text and life-at-the-speed-of-Twitter narrative (huge plot twists involving time travel, magic and extraterrestrials are spat out mid-sentence, nodded upon and moved-on-from in open defiance of the "pause so the audience can absorb this" custom) will cause many to lose interest long before it starts to make sense.
"There's two things going on. If you're over 30, you're going to see it in a completely different point of view."
That being said I liked it overall. It reminds me a little bit of last year's unfortunately flawed but more unfortunately misunderstood Sucker Punch in that both are exceptionally energetic rule-breaker movies made by filmmakers whose enthusiasm and ambitions may ultimately outstrip their technical discipline. But given the choice, I'll take a movie that's perhaps trying too hard to be different over all the others that try too hard to be the same.
Detention opens in limited release on April 13th.
P.S. I feel obligated to address the unfortunate fact that, yes, Dane Cook is in the movie. Him playing the stuffy, socially-defeated school principal, the opposite of his fratboy-hellraiser stage persona, is the joke. Yeah. He's actually not bad in it and he doesn't have much screentime, in any case.
Bob Chipman is a film critic and independent filmmaker. If you've heard of him before, you have officially been spending way too much time on the internet.