Mario Van Peebles’s We the Party is a coming-of-age story of a generation that may think in tweets, or tweet instead of think, but still has to deal with very material and all-encompassing anxieties. The fact that the film opens with an unsmiling African American teenager wearing a dark hoodie walking to school is nothing short of chilling in these times of lethal fashion choices for kids of color. Van Peebles, who also stars in the film alongside several of his sons, has crafted a remarkably well-edited and authentic piece of filmmaking that’s both exhilaratingly fun (think a less self-indulgent, and definitely less queer Kaboom) and socially conscious—to a limit.
The narrative is largely driven by the old notion that boys will be boys and will make the relentless quest for pussy a full-time team effort, including taping an iPhone camera to one’s shoe to broadcast skirt-wearing girls’ private parts to the nearest iPad screen. But while the film can be insensitive, or blind, to the misogyny and homophobia of the general culture (the token gay teen is a finger-snapping, head-bobbing fashionista), it takes the issues of race and class quite seriously.
We the Party follows the daily lives of a group of mostly privileged and black Los Angeles-area high school students as they deal with such troubles as having to lose their virginity before prom or convincing their parents to buy them a car. Not everyone’s problems are so petty. One of the school’s outcasts, the hoodie-wearing rapper C.C., for Conscious Criminal (played by rapper YG, né Kennan Jackson), has been held back in his grade several times, lives in poverty, and is constantly threatened by his thuggish old brother (played by the jarringly cast Snoop Dogg).
Van Peebles, who plays the class teacher, does his best to pepper the film with his politically conscious mottos, some of which can feel heavy-handed (minimum effort now means minimum-wage later and insecure people buy a lot of stuff they don’t need). But the fact that the We the Party is, from the beginning, so clear about its pro-education message gives its many spectacular party scenes and rap battles a sense of gravitas. It’s like booty-shaking for a noble cause, or something like that.
It’s also rather impressive that the 52-year-old Van Peebles has been able to represent today’s teenage culture so entreatingly well not only in his dialogue, but in the very visual style of the film, which turns each scene into a bombardment of broken-up units with unexpected speed changes and cuts. Unlike most films, TV shows, or media personalities that try so embarrassingly hard to speak the language of the most treasured demographic in America (“Have you seen Molly?”), We the Party feels legitimately hip, and faithfully symptomatic. In the end, the real question seems to be not how to change the world, or at least see the world, but “Who would you want in your Facebook status forever?”