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Review: Powerful education documentary ‘The Bad Kids’ shows a path to success

‘The Bad Kids’
Joey McGee in the documentary “The Bad Kids.”
(Low Key Pictures / FilmRise)

Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe’s documentary, “The Bad Kids,” offers an intimate, unflinching and ultimately inspiring look at the students and faculty at Black Rock High School. The continuation school offers adolescents who wouldn’t be able to graduate elsewhere a final opportunity, one where they are provided the love and support of teachers and principal Vonda Viland.

From its title on, “The Bad Kids” challenges the idea that students who struggle to attend and pass class are troublemakers or lazy. Instead, it’s often a difficult home life that has kept them from good grades and perfect attendance in the past.

The film focuses on three teens: Joey, an aspiring musician with an addict mother; Lee, a young father trying to balance his own education with raising a son; and Jennifer, a survivor of sexual abuse. The documentary also briefly explores other students’ stories, and while they’re all unique, the similarities emphasize that they aren’t alone in their challenges. 

The vérité approach in “The Bad Kids” gives viewers insight into a timely issue by literally putting a face on it. Pepe’s camera alternates between showing close-ups of the teens, pulling back to show powerful conversations between students and teachers and wide shots of the California desert and sunsets. This isn’t just a necessary or powerful story; it’s a well-told one.

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‘The Bad Kids’

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour 40 minutes

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Playing: Laemmle NoHo 7, North Hollywood

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