De­ter­mined to earn a diploma

Los Angeles Times - - AT THE MOVIES: REVIEWS - — Robert Abele

How do you com­bine home­work with the ev­ery­day strug­gle to sur­vive? For the three work­ing-poor sub­jects of An­drew Cohn’s doc­u­men­tary “Night School” — high school dropouts re­turn­ing to class years (in one case, decades) later to get not a GED but a full-on diploma — it’s more than just fin­ish­ing some­thing be­gun. It’s achiev­ing some­thing to start some­thing: the dream of a more pros­per­ous life.

Greg, 30, is a sin­gle fa­ther with a crim­i­nal record he’s try­ing to get ex­punged while he at­tends a free public school called the Ex­cel Cen­ter in In­di­anapo­lis. Melissa is a lonely 53-year-old who just needs to con­quer al­ge­bra to get the pa­per she be­lieves will re­store a bea­t­en­down self-es­teem from leav­ing school at age 14 to be a mom. Twenty-six-year-old Arby’s em­ployee Shynika knows a diploma will help get her into nurs­ing school, while the grow­ing protest move­ment to raise the min­i­mum wage for fast-food work­ers awak­ens her po­lit­i­cal side. (She sleeps in her car, un­able to af­ford a place to live.)

Cohn’s slickly edited ver­ité-style sto­ry­telling lets each per­son’s hu­man­ity rise, just enough to mix ex­pected poignancy with a sim­ple clar­ity about the strug­gles of low-in­come, op­por­tu­ni­ty­chal­lenged souls. When tests and quizzes are in the off­ing, it’s hard not to feel that clas­sic anx­i­ety all over again. But what “Night School” makes abun­dantly, vi­tally real is that the stakes feel greater this time around when life has al­ready tried hard to give these recharged as­pi­rants a fail­ing grade.

Os­cil­lo­scope Lab­o­ra­to­ries

MELISSA, 53, left school at 14 to be a mom. The film de­tails her and two others’ re­newed school ef­forts.

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