Thanks to Chuck Palahniuk and also to David Fincher, Brad Pitt and the entire crew of the film based on his book, “fighting ring” have permanently changed for a large number of people. As a big fan of Fight Club who has seen the film more times than would possibly be considered healthy, I’ve developed a fascination with underground fighting rings. So, when I came across the story of Honor Roll Boys, I knew I had to watch it, and it doesn’t disappoint! There’s only one small fight scene of just a few seconds, but I have to appreciate the effort because it’s believable and the cinematography does create a rush of adrenaline. But where I feel Honor Roll Boys is most effective in portraying the world of fighting rings, is in the portrayal of morality and world views.
The film follows Michael (Tomás Martínez), who has a chance at getting into Yale but needs his principal (Paola Palma) to write him a letter of recommendation. She, however, offers him a deal of giving him the letter if he can help her by getting to the bottom of the rumors about an underground fighting ring in the school, allegedly run by Logan (Bryan Bejerano). Michael joins the club to spy on its activities and report back to the principal but ends up developing a good camaraderie with Logan. They bond over the bets they place on who will win the scheduled fight, and soon enough, begin hanging out. Logan keeps bragging about how easy it is to earn like this and Michael eventually denies finding out anything about the fight club when next confronted by the principal. What happens to his admission to Yale though? Its answer to that question makes Honor Roll Boys quite impressive.
Writer and director Adrian Gonzalez has gone about the storytelling very efficiently, using every scene and shot to further the plot and the emotional development of our protagonist. I’m sure the brevity of the fight scene is owed somewhat to the limited resources available to the team, but the short run time of the film makes it seem convincing that that is exactly how long the fight should have run. Beyond that would be self-indulgent. And the handheld camera follows the fighters up-close enough to still deliver a punch, pun intended. Then there’s Michael’s pondering about his future. It’s a shot of a few seconds that focuses on him looking at his planner and sighing over the unchecked item of “get into Yale”. And despite the short run time, Michael choosing to side with Logan doesn’t feel like a convenient plot point. Through just two conversations, you can see how Logan has sort of taught Michael the criminal way of thinking. Instead of focusing on the sensationalist element of the fight club and the spying, Honor Roll Boys tells a story of how we’re susceptible to compromise when a convenient or exciting enough opportunity presents itself.
The loss of innocence or the moral compromise manifests in an extreme enough way to make Honor Roll Boys a serious film. It does feel like a passionate group having a bit of harmless fun with filmmaking through a sort of self-indulgent story when the first few scenes happen, but it eventually takes the route of its protagonist–what seemed like harmless fun leads to something so sinister it leaves a mark. I feel like the performances could have been a bit more emotionally explicit, but other than that, I honestly don’t have many complaints. Except for the fact that now I have this urge to go watch Fight Club and I definitely don’t have the time to. A job well done, and also with representation. The entire team is Latinx and that earns Honor Roll Boys a very high Incluvie score.