Written and Directed by Mike Mills
Produced by Anthony Bregman, Ted Hope and Sean Welch
Cinematography by Rodrigo Prieto
Edited by James Haygood
Production Design by Judy Becker
Art Direction by Ann Chakraverty
Original Music written and performed by Ben Gibbard and Jenny Lewis
Michael Cera as Kevin
Danielle Panabaker as Amy
Tania Raymonde as Megan
Tilda Swinton as Mrs. Linda Shelly
Hunter Parrish as Tim
Anton Yelchin as Brian
Shia LaBeouf as Craig
Erik Knudsen as Zack
John Patrick Amedori as Jeremy
Jazz Raycole as Stephanie
Mackenzie Rosman as Katie
Christopher Meloni as Amy’s Dad
Tagline: "Resolved: High School debate is life in argument form"
Synopsis: Lincoln-Douglas high school debate in all its glory. This story follows eight seniors at a high school in Oklahoma as they struggle with life and the event. Kevin (Michael Cera) has just joined the squad. He’s on the team largely because of his romantic interest in team flirt Amy (Danielle Panabaker) who was his science lab partner the year before. Ivy-league bound over-achiever Brian (Anton Yelchin) and fast talking slacker (except when it comes to debate) Craig (Shia LaBeouf) are fresh off top 10 finishes at Nationals the year before and are seeking to repeat that level of success again. Tim (Hunter Parrish) is extremely quiet and shy in social settings but is able to turn on a switch in a debate round that makes him incredible. Jeremy is the cocky basketball player (John Patrick Amedori) who is always butting heads with Zack (Erik Knudsen), the son of coach Linda Shelly (Tilda Swinton). Megan (Tania Raymonde) is a transfer student from a school in New Jersey where she was a superb policy CX debater, an event this school doesn’t compete in. She struggles to fit in and to adapt to the different style of debate. Stephanie (Jazz Raycole) and Katie (Mackenzie Rosman) are the top debaters at a rival high school.
Kevin struggles mightily in his first local tournament, failing to win a single round. However, he sneaks out to the school bus with Amy where he has his first kiss. Things are awkward between them back at school though and he discusses his problems with his new friend Megan who also struggled in her first tournament in this new event for her. Brian and Craig, after placing 1st and 2nd and qualifying for Regionals (the qualifying tournament for the state championships) decide to skip the rest of the local tournaments and spend the rest of the year preparing for Districts (the qualifying tournament for Nationals). Tim, on his way home after the tourney, gets into a car accident with his younger brother who was a freshman on the team. Tim walks away without a scratch but his brother is killed. He comes back the next week not telling anybody what happened and focuses hard on the event, trying to fill the void that Brian and Craig leave at the rest of the local tournaments. The team is only allowed to send four debaters to Districts so the competition heats up between Jeremy and Zack to get the fourth spot. Jeremy is determined to take that spot because he felt that the only reason Zack got it the year before was because his mom was the coach.
Kevin and Megan team up and are determined to get better. After a lot of practice they do a lot better at the second tournament, each winning a couple of rounds. They also meet and befriend Stephanie and Katie, who are experienced debaters at another school. The news gets around the team about what happened to Tim’s brother and each member tries to console him but he refuses to talk about it with anybody. Jeremy hooks up with Amy and Kevin actually sees them kissing on the bus, just like he had done with her before. Zack warns Kevin and Megan about Stephanie and Katie, telling them that Katie had tried to get close to him last year so she could try and steal some arguments. Kevin and Megan are dubious of this accusation.
Things start to fall apart as it is shown that Amy’s school board member dad likes to visit her room at night. Kevin learns his parents are divorcing. Megan is still struggling to make friends outside of Kevin and this is compounded by the fact her cheerleading sister two years younger has become popular. Amy starts flirting with Zack who has always liked Amy but doubts the sincerity of her interest. Jeremy has to take a random drug test for the basketball team and tests positive. He is kicked off both the basketball team and the debate team. Tim who has been winning tournament after tournament with Brian and Craig not competing finally cracks. After not showing up to school Coach Shelly tries to check up on him only to find out that he had committed suicide. His devastated parents let her know that he left a note saying that he loved them and everyone on the debate team but that he was unable to deal with his brother’s death.
At the last tournament before Regionals, Kevin and Megan end up both placing in the top 3 and therefore qualifying. Districts are two weeks away and Coach Shelly has to decide between Kevin, Megan and Amy for the fourth spot. She ends up having them debate each other in class in three debates and has the rest of the team vote at the end of the three who should get the spot. Megan ends up winning. This strains her relationship with Kevin. At Regionals, which is hosted at their high school, Kevin is out to prove he should have got one of the district spots and ends up qualifying for State along with Brian, Craig, Zack and Amy; however Megan finishes two places out of qualification. Kevin ends up having a long talk with Amy and gets her to open up to him about her dad. Kevin convinces her to report it and her dad is arrested. Megan however sees Kevin talking with Amy and gets the wrong idea. She gets into a big argument with Kevin and feels betrayed. She spends time preparing with Stephanie and Katie to get ready for Districts and realizes Zack was right about their intentions. She lets them think they have figured out what arguments Brian and Craig will be using by feeding them fake ideas she came up with. At districts, Stephanie and Katie have prepared their cases around refuting these non existent arguments and end up doing poorly. Brian, Craig and Megan all end up qualifying for Nationals. At State, Zack, Kevin and Amy end up placing 1st, 2nd and 3rd respectively, largely because Brian and Craig have already started focusing on Nationals which doesn’t take place until the summer after they all graduate.
At graduation Kevin, Brian, Craig, Amy, Zack, Megan, and Jeremy all reflect back on memories of Tim. Amy convinces Kevin to talk to Megan before she goes to Nationals. He meets Megan at the high school before she is about to leave with Brian, Craig and Mrs. Shelly. They talk about the crazy year and he wishes her luck as she gets in the bus and they drive off. Kevin smiles, knowing they will do well.
What the Press would say:
The young and talented cast comes together to deliver an emotionally powerful film. The audience is drawn into the world of competitive speech as it is used as a setting for examining the characters superbly written and directed by Mike Mills (Thumbsucker). Michael Cera (Superbad), Shia LaBeouf (Transformers), Tilda Swinton (Chronicles of Narnia), Tania Raymonde (Lost) and Danielle Panabaker (Shark) all shine in wonderful rolls. However, the most buzz is surrounding Hunter Parrish (Weeds) and his raw emotional performance as Tim, *SPOILER ALERT* a kid who ends up committing suicide after being unable to cope with the senseless death of his younger brother. Ben Gibbard (Death Cab for Cutie) and Jenny Lewis (Rilo Kiley) who collaborated in Gibbard’s side project (The Postal Service) work together again and deliver several outstanding original songs that serve as the musical backdrop for the film. Rodrigo Prieto (21 Grams, Brokeback Mountain & Babel) provides superb cinematography and James Haygood (Fight Club) edits the film together beautifully.
Oscar Campaign Categories include:
Best Picture - Anthony Bregman, Ted Hope and Sean Welch
Best Actor – Michael Cera
Best Supporting Actor – Hunter Parrish
Best Supporting Actor – Shia LaBeouf
Best Supporting Actress – Tilda Swinton
Best Supporting Actress – Danielle Panabaker
Best Supporting Actress – Tania Raymonde
Best Director – Mike Mills
Best Original Screenplay – Mike Mills
Best Film Editing – James Haygood
Best Original Song – Ben Gibbard and Jenny Lewis (for the song “Dying at a Funeral”)
Best Original Song – Ben Gibbard and Jenny Lewis (for the song “Of Arguments and Speeches”)