Highland Park Shows Michigan’s Economic Devastation
April 14, 2013

Highland Park is now available to buy on demand, including from Amazon.

Highland Park poster

It’s an instant time capsule. I don’t mean the movie’s outdated, but that its strength is the way it captures the look of a particular period. Highland Park is a suburb of Detroit, Michigan, and the burned-out setting, due to economic struggles and abandonment, is shocking.

The film is about a group of friends who all work at the high school. One, the principal (Billy Burke), has to lay off the others — a guidance counselor, the football coach, a theater teacher — due to severe budget cuts. They’ve been playing losing lottery numbers for ten years together, and one day, the numbers come up.

My problem with the movie is that the director/co-writer, Andrew Meieran (experienced in historic rehabilitation, making his first film), does such a great job portraying people and a community who have given up that the “we can work together to make things better” stab at a happy ending feels too little, too late. I’ve seen Depression-era movies similar to this, where folks who have nothing else to hope for wish for a lottery win, but there, the fantasy seems more plausible (probably due to the glossy sets and design). Here, it’s a last-ditch stupid thing to hope for, as Burke’s character tells us early on.

I also had issues with the sexist way the mayor, played by Parker Posey, is described at the end. There are many other “bad guys”, those who enrich themselves unjustly at the expense of the regular people, but none of the men are attacked as meanly.

The movie didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know, but it sure showed me some shocking images. The ruin of the abandoned library, a real location, is heartbreaking, with decay and trash covering shelves of books still in place. Here’s the trailer:

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