The new film "Brick" takes the trend even further, using film noir to punctuate the cool in secondary school.
"Brick" hits on things we remember in high school - the important things, the enticing things and the scary things, too.
Brendan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) begins this journey by talking with several suspects and a few allies. Instead of meeting in dark hallways or interrogation rooms, they meet at the library, in the parking lot or on the football field - accentuating the level of innocence and naïveté that all the characters possess.
But the subjects the film addresses, from murder and violence to drugs and teen pregnancy, speak to the forced acceleration into adulthood that adolescents face today.
The film's soundtrack also walks the line of sophistication meets innocence, with its repartee of bells, a plucking bass guitar and the piano making childish, lullabylike sounds.
Sticking with the film noir style, the students speak a special codelike language using words and phrases like "bricks," "pins," "specs," "cream on the upper crust" and "duck soup." Considering how outlandish slang becomes as generations pass, it works.
The film hits several stereotypical high school groups in a non-"Clueless" fashion, except for the threatening gangster-mobster kids who don't fit anywhere. Conveniently, it also omits anyone who isn't white from taking on anything but the most minor roles, like a "drama vamp" or a disgruntled varsity football player.
The term "film noir" initially referenced films made during a given timeframe rather than a discernable style. And this might be why the film seems to be reaching at times with cliché lines like, "I came here to say goodbye. Whatever you gotta do to say goodbye, you gotta do it," or labeling the vice principal as "VP."As with all film noir, the ending is bleak. But the film is gripping and most of the actors deserve gold-star stickers.
Gordon-Levitt plays Brendan beautifully and true to film's style without ever going over the top. He is unfeeling but not disenchanted and is sexy in the most ambiguous way. With his dark shaggy hair tangled in his circular silver-rimmed spectacles and his fists thrust into the pockets of a progressively more-filthy track jacket, his appearance emphasizes his outsider persona.
He wears stylish brown loafers not fit for running, but they don't stop him from sprinting away from menacing knife-bearing opponents. Hermit image aside, he can lay a mean punch, he loves hard and his mysterious loner persona snatches a thoughtful girl's heart.
Laura's (Nora Zehetner) star doesn't shine as brightly as some of her co-stars. She plays the femme fatale character, and she's a beautiful girl who looks and dresses the part. But she uses her nasally voice to create a sense of mystery and sexuality, and it ends up looking - and sounding - transparent.
You can't argue with a film that references Minneapolis. Brendan, mocking the disgruntled football player, tells him he's a scout for the Gophers and asks the player when he could be in Minneapolis. He dryly adds that we have "cold winters but great public transit."
Shortly after his biting comment, Brendan opens a can of whoop ass on the jock - just for kicks. Too bad high school wasn't that cool; most of us would probably want to go back.