By: Satveer Kler
There come points when nostalgia seems inescapable, that the only acceptable response to such precarious life transitions is to yearn for simpler times filled with the self-indulgence. Which is to say, after graduating college, I immediately began to reminisce of those days and afterwards, would go back even further and reminisce of my time in high school. One night, I was scrolling through my Netflix suggestions as a twenty-something jobless individual who still lives at their parents’ house does and I came across Candy Jar (2018).
I recalled that a friend had recommended it to me some time ago because the film concerned high school debate which I did myself. I had remained dubious about watching earlier because I was worried that the film’s portrayal of an activity that I held so dearly within my heart in high school was going to be ridiculed and made the butt of the joke. I decided that I would give it a shot because I really missed the thrill and accomplishment from the competitive nature of debate, and I hoped to vicariously find that again within the film.
*the following review may contain spoilers*
The film follows Lona Skinner (Sami Gayle) and Bennet Russell (Jacob Latimore), two high school nemeses who are co-captains of their private school’s debate team. Lona is a white girl who comes from a middle class background and attends the private school via scholarship and dreams of one day attending Harvard. Bennet, on the other hand, is a black boy who comes from an upper class background with his mom being the state’s senator, and he hopes to follow in his mom’s footsteps and wishes to attend Yale. Initially, the two compete as individuals and close-out finals as co-champions. However, at the next tournament, their mothers get into a heated passive-aggressive diatribe against one another and the tournament staff agree to remove Lona and Bennet from the tournament altogether. Distraught at what to do next, Lona and Bennet are presented the option of competing together as a team by their debate coach, which they laugh off and assert that they would both rather work with any other individual within the school. But, it is the idea that a state championship could possibly improve their respective college applications that convinces the two of them to work together and compete as a team. The latter half of the film portrays that dynamic and how the two of them gradually become friends and bond over their similarities while allowing for similar moments between their respective mothers.
Fortunately enough for me, my previous sense of dubiousness was in vain. For the most part, the film’s portrayal of debate was pretty spot on. The outfits, the early morning car rides to tournaments, the debaters anticipating pairings, the hours and hours spent doing research were all things that were a part of my own high school debate experience. However, the film did falter with its portrayal with regards to certain aspects, though not in an egregious manner. Debate is a nation-wide activity that carries a bunch of elitism, favoritism, and class-bias within it. Often times, the schools that are the most successful in debate and those who are in late elimination rounds at national tournaments are private schools who can afford big coaching staffs with multiple individuals doing research for their school. Smaller schools and especially public schools seldom are able to afford travel for larger highly acclaimed national tournaments nor are they able to afford the luxury of a large coaching staff. And though the topic remains the same the entire year, students go into far more nuance and intricate detail than presented in the film via their usage of policy briefs, think tanks, critical race theory, feminist theory, and postmodern philosophy within their argumentation.
Despite this faltering, Candy Jar reawakened in me a sense of vigor for advocating for issues of social justice and for combating various forms of oppression. It is easy to lose sight of social issues, especially when one leaves college and feels more disconnected from them. While I may not be in high school advocating the importance of combating various forms of oppression via my debate arguments or in college engaging in community based efforts to promote awareness of certain issues, it is important that I do not let these become reasons for becoming complacent. It is important that I use my nostalgia to continue to be an advocate for social justice, instead of just letting these remain quaint, happy memories of my past.
If you too are feeling a similar sense of disembodiment from social issues, or if you just want momentary reprieve from the world, or if you need a reminder of perspective, I would recommend Candy Jar. If you are interested in learning more about the world of high school and college debate, I would also highly recommend the documentaries Resolved (2007) and Debate Team (2009), as well as the film Rocket Science (2007) staring a baby Anna Kendrick and Reece Thompson.
Satveer Kler (aka Satty McDaddy) is a banshee-wannabe who spends their time being envious of the moon. One day they will hopefully have enough money to afford extra guacamole in their burrito bowls.