Cooley High

Synopsis: Often called ‘the black American Graffiti’ – but with “far more vitality and variety” (The New York Times), Cooley High takes a nostalgic, poignant – and hilariously funny – look at black teen life in 1960’s Chicago.

It’s 1964. JFK has just been assassinated. Martha & the Vandellas, Little Stevie Wonder and the Four Tops rule the airwaves. And two high school students discover themselves – and the taste of freedom – for the first time. Preach (Glynn Truman), a serious-minded writer, and his best friend Cochise (Lawrence-Hilton Jacobs), a basketball hero headed for college, are best friends at Cooley High. Together they cut classes to go to the zoo, crash parties, put the hustle on some hustlers and dream about getting out of their impoverished, rough neighborhood. But when an innocent joy ride makes them the targets of two vengeful hoods, their already uncertain futures seem even further out of reach. Featuring a “well handled mix of comedy and drama with a soundtrack of Motown gold” (Blockbuster Entertainment Guide) and a “universal appeal” (Los Angeles Times), Cooley High is the best American comedy so far this year (Village Voice)!
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Cooley High 7.5

Featuring a rich Motown soundtrack, ‘Cooley High’ has been claimed by some as being the African-American ‘American Graffiti’. While they’re very different films, I think that the comparison is fitting: both are nostalgic, both feature a group of friends in their last few moments of high school together, and both take place at a time of significant change in American culture.

Frankly, I still prefer ‘American Graffiti’. Perhaps it’s because I could relate more to the characters, or because the mini-adventures that we follow the characters on are more appealing to me. But I nonetheless loved large portions of this film, and will be looking forward to watching it again.

For one, I loved the two main actors, Glynn Turman and Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs. While I couldn’t relate to either of their charcaters, I thought that they were both fairly congenial (despite their respective flaws). I decided to look up their filmographies, and was astounded to see that neither really got any major work after this. Sure, they both got steady work but, aside from Turman’s work on ‘A Different World’ and Hilton-Jacobs’ stint on ‘Welcome Back, Kotter’, it looks like they both had to struggle for a steady paycheque. Unfortunate, ‘cause I think that they both had a lot of potential.

Another thing I quite liked was the soundtrack. What an awesome array of Soul and R&B classics! I would actually consider buying the soundtrack, if exists (or, worst case scenario, compile the tracks myself). Anyway, I thought that it really powered the film, much like the soundtrack to ‘American Graffiti’ did for that movie.

All in all, I thought that ‘Cooley High’, despite an unappealing name, is really worth a second glance; it captures a time and place in a very real and accessible way. Frankly, I’m really pleased to have made this discovery and taken a chance on it.

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