Former UT students Kirk Johnson and Will Elliott wrote the screenplay for “Austin High,” and their love of Austin is clear in each and every scene of the film. The city is practically a living, breathing character, with its various hot spots showcased throughout the film and its characters motivated by a desire to keep the city as traditionally non-traditional as possible.
While the filmmakers’ love for Austin gives “Austin High” an easy charm and likability, the film’s story suffers from the same shagginess “Austin High” worships in its setting. Set in a high school staffed by pot-smoking teachers, janitors, students and even principal Samuel Wilson (Michael S. Wilson), things seem pretty ideal until the arrival of Vice President Lambert (Melinda Y. Cohen), a domineering tyrant.
Most of the film’s problems lie in Lambert’s character, who is barely more than a humanized S&M fetish and whose insubordinate behavior certainly wouldn’t fly, even in a school as laid-back as the one portrayed in the film. The fact that Lambert orders her boss around and even conducts unauthorized drug searches against his will reeks of contrivance for the sake of convenience, and hurts the film’s early moments simply because of how little sense it makes. However, things get more and more compelling as “Austin High” proceeds, and by the end, it becomes a pretty touching comedy.
“Austin High” is a film custom-made for the Austin Film Festival, a shaggy-dog stoner comedy with strong performances and plenty of unabashedly hilarious jokes. While it may suffer from a few weak story beats, it’s the kind of charming, heartfelt film that is absolutely delightful to stumble upon at festivals like this one.