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Review: ‘Hard Sell’ plays the high school hits but finds its own groove

Skyler Gisondo and Katrina Bowden star in the dramatic comedy "Hard Sell."
(Momentum Pictures)

It’s hard to keep track of all the old high school comedies that writer-director-producer Sean Nalaboff nods to in his feature film debut, “Hard Sell.” Eventually, though, the movie finds its own voice and groove, and avoids being a mere retro exercise.

Skyler Gisondo stars as Hardy Buchanan, a Long Island teenager who has trouble making friends with his private school classmates. He’s not rich, and a lot of his free time is spent looking after his mentally ill mother, Lorna (well-played by Kristin Chenoweth).

Then Hardy meets a homeless ex-stripper named Bo (Katrina Bowden), and the two indulge their entrepreneurial side by charging other lonely kids to spend time with her … and occasionally see her naked. Hardy gets along with Bo because he’s used to looking after damaged souls, but before long, she’s teaching him and his peers how to be more confident.

The “teen pimp” premise is reminiscent of “Risky Business,” the “helpful mentor” angle recalls “My Bodyguard,” and the private school setting has echoes of everything from “Rushmore” to “Submarine.” Truth be told, “Hard Sell” pales in that company, lacking those films’ keen insights and perspectives.

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But Nalaboff avoids formula by letting his plot twist and turn naturally. And “Hard Sell” uses its location well, contrasting the distinct worlds of the wealthy and the working class. If there’s one important takeaway from the films Nalaboff apes, it’s that where these kinds of stories are set is as important as what happens.

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‘Hard Sell’

Not rated

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Running time: 1 hour, 36 minutes

Playing: Arena Cinema, Hollywood


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