‘Downfalls High’ review: ‘Grease’ is the word in Machine Gun Kelly’s pop-punk playground

Rock out in the guitar-wielding rebel's teenage dream, inspired by Danny Zuko and the gang

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    Machine Gun Kelly’s pop-punk musical Downfalls High explores the same world of teenage rebellion that dominated last year’s brilliant ‘Tickets To My Downfall’ album. Billed as a “first-of-its-kind-musical experience”, the 50-minute movie-cum-music-video was recently compared to Pink Floyd’s ‘The Wall’ by Kelly, who also writes and directs. And while it might fall short of that game-changing masterpiece, there’s plenty of fun to be had in the rock and roll playground he’s created.

    Taking its cues from Grease, the film follows two teen lovers as they navigate an early relationship. There’s Fenix (Chase Hudson), a moody outsider who’s not great at expressing himself – and uncertain rebel Scarlett (Euphoria‘s Sydney Sweeney). The characters are compelling, but Downfalls High is more a visual album than a full-blown musical. Much of the movie sees Kelly and special guest Travis Barker (Blink-182) performing ‘Tickets To My Downfall’ in its near-entirety while embracing choreographed theatrics. The chunks of live music will have you desperate for the crush of the mosh-pit while the more outlandish Broadway-ready moments (MGK finds himself surrounded by suits giving him the finger for ‘All I Know’ while ‘Nothing Inside’ sees him as a life-size version of classic board game Operation) are brilliant but all too fleeting.

    Machine Gun Kelly – Downfalls High

    school for dropouts starts NOW. it’s a movie 🎬 #DownfallsHigh

    Posted by Machine Gun Kelly on Friday, January 15, 2021

    Away from the music videos, a cast made up of friends and family give the film a sense of community spirit. Musician pals Iann Dior, Trippie Redd, JXDN, Maggie Lindemann and Phem all make an appearance – as does Barker’s son Landon who plays fictional band Pink Switchblades’ drummer). Plot-wise, Fenix and Scarlett fall head over heels for each other within minutes of meeting, have awkward conversations about hating aeroplanes and flirt with nihilism (“What do you want to be when you grow up” asks Scarlett. “Dead” is Fenix’s deadpan response). Their’s is a typical Hollywood teen romance.

    Speaking to NME last year, Baker explained that his goal for ‘Tickets To My Downfall’ was to inspire. “I want young kids to be comfortable enough to pick up a guitar and try because that was an important thing with me. It wasn’t like I was on some Prince shit where the first time the world saw me, I was nailing it. I had to struggle to get here.”

    Downfalls High
    Machine Gun Kelly performs his latest album throughout the new film. Credit: Press

    That struggle is what MGK focuses on in Downfalls High, with Fenix starting a band to try and express his conflicted emotions. Kelly, meanwhile, uses the narrative framework to celebrate punk rock in all its comforting, understanding glory. In a world of content for content’s sake – films have often been used by artists try and extend the lifespan of an album – Downfalls High feels driven by purpose.

    Details

    • Director: Machine Gun Kelly, Mod Sun
    • Starring: Sydney Sweeney, Chase Hudson, Travis Barker
    • Release date: January 15 (Digital)
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