Movie review: ‘We the Party’ fails to capture school spirit

Writer-director Mario Van Peebles’ hectic version of a coming-of-age romp, the L.A.-set “We the Party” depicts a multi-ethnic group of friends and acquaintances at a fictional Baldwin Hills high school, who have sex, grades and an uncertain future on their minds.

Van Peebles’ son Mandela stars as Hendrix, a smart charmer with an eye for studious babe Cheyenne (Simone Battle) but a disdain for education that worries his hectoring dad (director Van Peebles), a teacher at his school. Throw in a class project involving the homeless, a raucous house party, freestyle rap duels, a loss-of-virginity contest, stolen school funds, a prom and one taciturn, hoodie-sporting wannabe-rapper (YG) with a thug older brother (Snoop Dogg), and you’ve got a movie that feels more like consciousness-raising, plot-juggling homework than a youthful blast.

Van Peebles, who corralled iconic filmmaking dad Melvin and other family members for bits and cameos, doesn’t let a tight budget restrict his freewheeling editing tricks and cast-wrangling energy. But it makes for a whole lot of platitude-spouting caricatures rather than something narratively enriching about today’s influence-bombarded teenagers.

The naughty-yet-nurturing tone is certainly unusual, but in working so hard to be the adult who “gets” kids yet lectures them at the same time, he’s ended up with a colorful but superficial mess.