The Bad Kids

On a remote patch of the Mojave Desert, amidst dusty tumbleweeds and rangy Joshua Trees, sits an anomaly: a high school where educators believe empathy, life skills, and the constancy of a caring adult are the differences that will give at-risk students command of their fates. On any given day, principal Vonda Viland calls kids at the crack of dawn to see if they’ll make it to school. And if they need a ride? Well, she’ll pick them up. Vonda knows each student’s challenges and coaches them tirelessly, never fostering false hopes. Her philosophy combines loving compassion with realism, and given her school’s rising graduation rate, it seems to be working.


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  • ★★★★ review by Scott Renshaw on Letterboxd

    Like many documentaries of this kind, this year-in-the-life study—set at Black Rock High School, a continuation school in California’s 29 Palms area of the Mojave Desert, with a population of kids at high risk of dropping out—focuses on a few specific individuals. There’s Joey, the talented musician struggling with his mom’s drug addiction as well as his own; there’s Lee, trying to juggle school with sharing care of his infant son; there’s Jennifer, hoping to graduate early despite a troubled family history. But perhaps the most haunting sequence comes when directors Lou Pepe and Keith Fulton craft a sound montage of dozens of students talking about the circumstances that make it so hard for them to succeed. It’s this sense of the almost overwhelming obstacles facing these teens that makes the work of principal Vonda Viland—who rises before dawn to give individual students wake-up calls—and her staff so heroic. Every individual student’s story is full of both encouragements and despair, making it clear that it’s simply not possible for Black Rock (and Viland) to save everyone. But understanding how unlikely it might seem that they could save anyone makes the moments of triumph—and even the understanding that graduation creates its own anxieties—powerfully emotional.

  • ★★★★ review by Sax Von Stroheim on Letterboxd

    I had something in my eye.

  • ★★★★ review by shelbi on Letterboxd

    yea im crying keep scrolling

  • ★★★★ review by Kevin Smokler on Letterboxd

    Documentary on a last-chance high school in the Mojave desert for kids who've had behavior problems or issues with the law. Really a tribute to the incredible educators who run the place and as such, is probably a bit too much about great teachers and a bit too little about the kids. But if you like any movie about the power and redemptive beauty of an education, you'll love this one. I did.

  • ★★★★ review by Louis Tornero-Moffitt on Letterboxd

    Life around us and the exploration of different individual situations is always compelling, this is where The Bad Kids triumphs with it's touching and emotive delivery of a school and faculty desperate to help students above the call of duty.

    This fly on the wall documentary is beautifully shot, contrasting heated interactions and touching exposition between teacher and pupil, as well as some portrait pieces on certain individuals. It doesn't take long to genuinely care about these kids and it's evident that regardless of them being troublesome the staff love and respect every one.

    I loved the insights to these pupil's lives- it highlights some genuine first world hardships that can be and usually are a far cry from what we're used to. It prompts you to evaluate how "lucky" you are, this also acts as perfect reasoning as to why this school does what it does- it is unflinching and riveting.

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