Academic Super Squad
Comedy, 10 min
Log line: Some high schoolers think they have it all figured out…but how do you act after you come out?
…[director] Gates plants a rainbow flag in the realm of high school misfit movies
Taylor Gates’ directorial debut, like its protagonist (Patricia Galvez), is smart, self-aware, and concealing a big soft heart beneath its too-cool veneer. In this sweet short, Gates plants a rainbow flag in the realm of high school misfit movies. The film follows Ella, whose punishment for being caught smoking at school (again) is a fate far worse than suspension: she must participate in the Academic Decathlon. The only person arguably more pissed off about this is Janine (Stephanie Rons), the principal’s daughter, and fiercely dedicated member of the Academic Super Squad.
The performances are excellent: Galvez exudes a perennial eye-roll beneath the surface of her leather-jacketed, Audre Lorde-reading rebel girl, while Rons nails the intense, nervy energy of a precocious overachiever. The film’s tension seems at first to depend on their clashing personalities, but soon reveals a deeper source in the difference between how its leading lesbians present themselves, and unavoidably, represent each other as “the only two… y’know… in school.” Nerd vs Slacker is just one of multiple tropes that Gates artfully complicates in order to accommodate the complexity, and specificity, of sapphic adolescence. That’s not to say that Academic Super Squad is a serious affair—it’s camp and fun; bursting with pop culture references, bright colours, and teen angst. But the film’s lightheartedness is part and parcel of its radical spirit. More and more, I appreciate the opportunity to see lesbians on screen, without the secrecy or suffering that tend to saturate our stories in the mainstream. I was pleasantly surprised to find the focus here on queer friendship and solidarity—as much as I ship a good lesbian love story, there’s something quietly subversive about a film that centres the relationship between two wlw, outside of a sexual or romantic context.
Academic Super Squad is as much a charming pastiche of the teen comedy genre as it is a compassionate exploration of internalised homophobia. It celebrates of the diversity of girls who like girls; their unique paths to self-acceptance (and wins bonus points for diverse casting, a peppy soundtrack, and plenty of wlw trivia!). I suspect that either or both Ella’s bravado and Janine’s perfectionism will be relatable to those of us who grew up overcompensating for marginalised identities, hidden or visible. Be sure to check out Academic Super Squad if you liked But I’m a Cheerleader, D.E.B.S., Booksmart, or you just wished Mean Girls were gayer.
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Maya Owen writes, sings, and cares about LGBTQ+ representation, among other things.