What do you do when the pills your popping only give you an imperfect high?
That’s the philosophy followed by the majority of the characters in Imperfect High, a Lifetime film that serves as a follow-up to Perfect High. In Imperfect High, Nia Sioux of Dance Moms fame plays Hannah, a teenager who wants to be an illustrator. When her mother (Sherri Shepherd) gets a new job in Chicago, Hannah suddenly finds herself going to a new school (the same school from Perfect High) and struggling to fit in with her new classmates. Fortunately, the school has an arts program. Hannah works on her graphic novel and becomes friends with Rob (Anthony Timpano), an artist with a rebellious attitude who compares social media to Chernobyl. (Rob was previously in Perfect High, though he was played by actor Ryan Grantham.) She also meets Dylan (Gabriel Darku), who helps out when Hannah has a panic attack during an active shooter drill.
Rob tries to get Hannah hooked on art but Dylan and his wealthy friends get her hooked on Xanax. Xanax, they assure her, is a great high, it helps out with anxiety, and it’s totally legal. Ever better, if you’re in a hurry, you can smash the pill into a power and just snort it! (They’re not wrong, of course. In college, I once did a line of Xanax in the back booth of the local IHOP. The person I was with kept saying, “I love Zan,” which I found really funny at the time. Of course, snorting drugs at IHOP is not something I would even consider doing today but college was a time for trying new things.) Soon, Hannah has got a prescription of her own and she also has a drug problem! Well, we knew that was coming….
Having now watched both Perfect High and now Imperfect High, I think it might be time to shut down that school because, seriously, nothing good seems to happen there. If you’re artistic or shy, you’re pretty much doomed to end up getting hooked on drugs. And the teachers and the school administrators apparently can’t do anything about it. Perhaps there will be a third film — Rapidly Declining High, perhaps — that will explore whether or not the school itself is cursed. Somewhere, someone is watching these films and saying, “It’s the art program, I tell ya! Ya let these kids get involved with the artistic types and ya know what’s going to happen!”
During its first hour or so, Imperfect High feels a bit overwritten. Everyone is snarky. Everyone has a quip. Rob is perhaps the worst offender. This is one of those films that sometimes seemed to be trying too hard to capture the way that teenagers talk. Things got a little better once Hannah got hooked on pills, if just because the focus went from Hannah and her friends to Hannah and her mother and Nia Sioux and Sherri Shepherd were very believable as mother and daughter. That said, the film approached its subject with a bit of a heavy hand. I think that’s always a mistake when it comes to making movies about drug addiction. I mean, the truth of the matter is that, if you want to guarantee that someone is going to do something, just tell them not to. It’s a bit of a rule that every film about drugs has to end with an overdose but, in the real world, there are negative consequences to drug use that have nothing to do with overdosing. Sometimes, I think anti-drug films would be more effective if they would focus on those negative effects instead of just automatically jumping to a melodramatic overdose.
Obviously, my feelings on Imperfect High were mixed. They were mixed on Perfect High, as well. But Nia Sioux gives a good performance in her starring debut. I always thought she was one of the better dancers on Dance Moms (and certainly, her mother seemed to be the least insane of the moms) so it’s good to see that there’s life after the Abby Lee Dance Company.