Wouldn’t it have been great to grow up in a coming-of-age movie? Even as a supporting character, you would no doubt be a 7 at a minimum, have a solid circle of similarly attractive friends and roll off perfectly delivered quips on the regular – rather than be perpetually awkward, moody and spend most weekends playing video games and drinking Frosty Jacks. Teenage life, and the changes that bombard us in those pivotal years, is rarely portrayed as intimately as in I’ll Never Forget My Highschool Friends, a handheld-footage exploration of teenage friendships and the pressures they face.
Ryan (Marco Bermudez) decides to record every aspect of his life before he leaves his hometown of Sudbury for college. He recruits Pauline (Ana Monfared) into doing the same, and together they document the last few weeks of summer with their friends Tanner (Michael Kishon), Bex (Sydney Amanuel) and PJ (Noah Pyzik). The filming continues over the next few summers as their lives cascade through unexpected developments that pull some bonds closer, tear others apart, and threaten to split the group for good.
Barring a few grinding exposition-heavy scenes early on, I’ll Never Forget My Highschool Friends is one of the most authentic and realistic coming-of-age movies you are likely to see. The ‘handheld footage’ style is effective and used innovatively – proving there is a lot more to these types of films than horror. But the intimacy that comes with the filming style is complimentary to the characterisation and dialogue in what makes the film feel genuine. The teenagers speak like teenagers – not like a screenwriters’ best guess at what teenagers speak like. The theme of growing up is woven effectively into the format, with changes in the group dynamic between the years displayed naturally through the interactions and conflicts which are documented.
The cast are excellent. Marco Bermudez and Ana Monfared as Ryan and Pauline are our windows into the group, and are the perfect focal points for the film. Sydney Amanuel brings a nihilistic cool to Bex. Michael Kishon brings an endearing aloofness to Tanner. And Noah Pyzik is mercurial and manipulative as PJ. The characters charm, entertain, irritate, shock and break your heart throughout. Most importantly of all, you will mourn for their carefree days as the spectre of adult life slowly cracks the gang apart – even as it becomes clear that in some instances, certain friendships aren’t meant to last.
Sam Ashurov and Raza Rizvi handle the direction brilliantly – using the film’s handheld camera format to great impact. There are clunky moments – at times it can be tough to keep pace with the time jumps as we follow two separate viewpoints over multiple summers. Certain scenes do feel contrived – a common pitfall of the genre where audiences will question whether characters would really keep recording such personal events at the perfect camera angle. But for the most part the storytelling works perfectly well with some of the most meaningful moments left beautifully understated. The directors trust their audience to pick up on the smallest and subtlest of clues as to the character’s motivations without outright stating them. It is a rewarding experience, and one that accesses the viewer’s own memories to remind us of the small moments in our own lives that meant more than we ever realised.
I’ll Never Forget My Highschool Friends is a real hidden treasure that is much more affecting than it first appears. If you can break past your initial impression of a bunch of young, dumb and carefree teenagers, you will find a deep and intimate portrayal of growth and how devastating its changes can be.