Written and directed by Sam Ashurov and Raza Rizvi, the movie revolves around a group of friends that are transitioning from high school to their early college years. From the beginning it is clear the directors took inspiration from the found-footage genre was popularized by horror movies, the handheld and up-close camerawork that is usually used to convey despair, fear, and horror is used in an entirely different manner in “I’ll Never Forget My High School Friends”. The found-footage aesthetic is used to give you a very intimate look at this small group of friends and their relationships. It is almost as if you were not meant to watch this very personal video memoir of the characters’ lives, and while the movie is not about you and your friends it could very well be.
Through the lens of two members of the friend group, we are introduced to the dynamic of the five main characters: Pauline (Ana Monfared), Ryan (Marco Bermudez), PJ (Noah Pyzik), Tanner (Michael Kishon), and Bex (Sydney Amanuel). Each character has its time to shine and showcase their personalities in unique ways, and while fictional, scripted, and designed to fulfill a narrative, they still evoke that familiarity to your own group of friends. The young actors all do a great job of portraying a handful of behaviors associated with youth, like being naïve, not in control of your own emotions, being completely self-centered, and unreasonably optimistic. But at the same time, they explore serious themes such as adulthood, career, sexuality, planning the future, peer pressure, and how influential those high-school friendships become to our personalities. All themes explored are nuanced and rely on the empathy of the viewers to strike home, but what makes this movie truly unique is how perfectly they captured the essence of how small dramas once looked like the end of the world to your teenage self.
At times, the cast is tasked with doing camerawork, and that is when the most natural and candid moments arise. In traditional found-footage movies, people will never put down the camera, while here characters turn them off, and put them down when more serious or intimate moments arrive. The variety of camerawork gives the audience a glimpse into the personality of each character holding the camera, and what they judge is worth recording.
A lot of attention to detail was put into everything, from shot composition to wardrobe, from sound-editing to the backdrops, and still with so many deliberate choices being made this movie feels extremely natural. But what makes this movie hit so close to home is the script, Ashurov and Rizvi have not forgotten the emotions, conversations, thoughts, experiences, and types of friends you have when you are young. They absolutely nail things like what it feels like sharing a secret with a friend, and their reaction, the internal jokes, small jabs, and bickering that are unique to each group of friends. There are some very funny moments in the movie, even though this is not a comedy by any means.
The soundtrack and audio choices made by the directors are done beautifully, especially the absence of a continuous soundtrack that helps bestow the feeling of intimate storytelling. It also directs the audience focus the core of the movie, which is great dialogue and character development.
The story being told while simple, is extremely relatable and transports you through multiple summers in the lives of these characters. The time jumps, and multiple points-of-view makes us witness how time and distance wither down all types of relationship, be them romantic or platonic. Also, we see through each character, in varying degrees of depth, how hard it can be to transition into adulthood and realize that you have outgrown the things that made you happy before. Likewise, we get to reminisce on just how painful it feels to realize that many aspects of our lives are being pulled apart during those years of transition. And how hard we work to try and convince ourselves that things will not change, that we will stay in touch, that we will come back, that we’ll stay the same and that our friendships are bigger than life itself and that those moments can last forever.
The movie does a great job of mirroring reality, in the sense that some characters we thought might have more importance or screen-time in our own lives, simply vanish. No matter how confusing, and painful it might be, some of our expectations are frustrated, and that is exactly what I felt as some of the characters drifted apart. I was confused, I could not understand why those choices were being made, why would they not give that character more screen-time, and then I realized that that is just a reflection of how life is.
Honestly, this movie could be about anyone, any group of friends, and that is what we get during the 98-minute run, an organic, down-to-earth, realistic, and heartfelt movie. A story that reflects a journey through life, the up’s and down of teenage years, and relies on the experiences and empathy of the viewers to truly shine could not rely on a “Hollywood Ending” as a closing statement. What the characters are left with is the same realization as the audience, that as much as we wished our lives were movies, we were the main characters, we had our own soundtracks, and that a script would give us a happy ending, life is not a movie. And that is the beauty of this movie, it shines a little bit brighter each time you can relate your own experience to the one being presented to you.
If you are looking for a coming-of-age movie that is not your typical Hollywood, big budget, formulaic, and typical movie, “I’ll Never Forget My High School Friends” is a fresh, unafraid, and compelling indie movie that will satisfy your needs.