"Like many Spike joints, it's ambitious but flawed."
Spike Lee's second feature, a comedy-musical, is extremely enjoyable in some spots but ultimately a letdown.Lee had the courage to make a film about tension between black college students (based on prejudice between light-skinned and dark-skinned blacks, and between activists and frat boys who just want a good job after graduation). He had the energy to stage a couple of bravura song-and-dance numbers. He even had the honesty to include a scene wherein the campus activists — who consider themselves uncompromisingly black — clash with working-class townies who jeer at them and insinuate that they're "wannabes."
Lee may have gotten so caught up in the exuberance of the movie — and of making the movie — that he didn't care to resolve plot elements that cry out for resolution. He also tries for serious drama when one of the sorority girls consents to sleep with a frat pledge and then regrets it, but he sets us up for a revelation that never comes. Lee's judge-for-yourself-because-I'm-not-giving-easy-answers approach worked in his next film, Do the Right Thing, but here it's just frustrating. And his "Please wake up" finale, while freighted with meaning, has to be one of the most narratively anticlimactic moments in film history.
Even with all its flaws, School Daze is worth seeing, because Lee gets into areas no director before had even bothered to come near. It was a tonic corrective to the Cosby Show spin-off A Different World, which had premiered the year before; interestingly, a few actors (like Kadeem Hardison and Jasmine Guy) appeared in both the movie and the sitcom. Among the stand-out performers: Laurence Fishburne (back when he was still Larry) as the main activist, Tisha Campbell as a misguided girl who sacrifices her dignity in the name of the sorority, Lee himself as frat hopeful Half-Pint, Giancarlo Esposito as the frat leader, and Ossie Davis in a brief, terrific bit as the football coach.According to Lee's companion volume, this was his most difficult film in terms of production and distribution, but the strain never shows onscreen. It just needed a bit more script cohesiveness.