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Should I Watch..? Never Been Kissed
What's the big deal?
Never Been Kissed is a romantic comedy film released in 1999 and was directed by Raja Gosnell, whose only other directorial effort was the disappointing Home Alone 3 (1). The film stars Drew Barrymore as an insecure copy-writer thrust back into high school in order to write a series of articles exposing student life for her newspaper. While masquerading as a 17-year-old student, she falls for English teacher Michael Vartan as well as falling to overcome her crippling shyness and personal demons. The film also stars David Arquette, Leelee Sobieski, John C. Reilly as well as Jessica Alba and James Franco in early roles. The film received mixed reviews upon release and earned $84.5 million worldwide, most of which was taken in the US. The film marks the debut production for Flower Films, Barrymore's own production company co-established with Nancy Juvonen.
What's it about?
Josie Geller is a neurotic copy-writer working at the Chicago Sun-Times who dreams of finding the love of her life (despite having no experience of even trying to look) and making it as a journalist. To her amazement, the paper's editor-in-chief gives her the opportunity after requesting Josie enrol at South Glen South High School and keep the inside scoop on life as a student. Initially overcome wit excitement, Josie's goofy brother Rob reminds Josie on how bad her time in high school was - causing Josie to become determined not to let history repeat itself.
Sure enough, history begins to repeat itself - her first day is a disaster after she embarrasses herself in front of cool clique Gibby, Kirsten and Kristen, she develops a hopeless crush on her English teacher Mr Coulson and is only befriended at the end of the day by intellectual loner Aldys who invites her to join her group of fellow geeks, the Denominators. But with a lack of meaningful stories being produced, how long can Josie keep her cover intact - especially after Rob enrols incognito and begins tutoring her in the art of being cool...
John C. Reilly
Augustus "Gus" Strauss
Anita, Josie's colleague
Abby Kohn & Marc Silverstein
Release Date (UK)
27th August, 1999
Comedy, Drama, Romance
What's to like?
Given the inherent creepiness of the film's story (grown woman pretends to be school pupil and seduces teacher), there is quite a bit wrong with the whole thing but the film does have one saving grace. Barrymore really shines in this movie, convincing as a comic lead as well as she handles the dramatic stuff. She injects the film with far more life than it actually possesses, nerding it up during endless flashbacks with awkward prom dresses and oversized braces but also giving her character more depth than I suspect was originally written. Most of the film's humour comes direct from her performance and for that, she deserves all our thanks.
Aside from Barrymore, the film hasn't much more going for it. The soundtrack is pretty decent, containing a few tunes from bands like Semisonic, REM and The Cardigans as well as snippets of Eighties classics during a flashback, just so we all know that it's a flashback. Reilly and Shannon don't get enough screen time as Josie's colleague back at the office and Sobieski's sympathetic portrayal of uber-nerd Aldys feels shuffled to the sidelines halfway through, as though the film realised that geeks aren't much fun. I wonder if they kicked themselves after The Big Bang Theory became such a huge success on TV?
- Listen carefully to the marching band on the football field when Josie collects her car with Aldys - they are playing the theme tune to The Simpsons.
- Not only is Drew Barrymore younger than David Arquette (who is supposed to be her younger brother) but she is also younger than Jeremy Jordan, the actor playing the high school jock Guy that Josie supposedly has a crush on.
- Sobieski was originally offered the role of Kristen but instead took the role of Aldys as she felt it was more interesting. Another actress considered for Aldys was Chloe Sevigny.
What's not to like?
Despite being as light, sugary and fluffy as candyfloss, the film does have a rather dark centre. The premise of a grown woman pretending to be an underage teenager and flirting with having inappropriate relationships with teachers and other pupils is completely abhorrent on every level - in fact, it's border-line illegal. However pretty Barrymore may be, she can't distract me from this rather suspect theme. Imagine a gender reversal - grown man goes back to high school and starts flirting with other pupils and teachers - and suddenly, the film doesn't come across as quite so innocent.
There are other issues besides the flagrant unpleasantness. The supporting cast don't really offer Barrymore much support and those who do (Reilly, Shannon and Sobieski) aren't given enough to do. Instead, the film spends its second half partying with the pretty boys and girls until the inevitable prom scene when it remembers what happened in the first half. There is a dreadful predictability to the movie with little surprises in store for viewers and not a great deal of comedy besides Barrymore poking fun at herself. Finally, there is the ending which is so over-written and ridiculous that it never feels organic, as though it's a scene written for the purposes of being in a movie as vacuous as this. Rom-coms have become so common that the genre has almost become a by-word for mediocrity and I'm afraid that Never Been Kissed doesn't offer much reason to challenge this assumption.
Should I watch it?
The film lacks much of the intelligence of other high school comedies (see below) but Never Been Kissed is a throwaway film that's full of sunshine and helmed by an actress enjoying herself in comfortable territory. If you can ignore the rather unpalatable set-up then the film will reward undemanding viewers with memories of their high school days. If not, the film is a troubling excuse of a rom-com filled with clichéd characters and a wasted soundtrack.
Great For: high school geeks, Drew Barrymore fans
Not So Great For: paranoid male teachers, critics, anyone who didn't go to high school in America
What else should I watch?
Rom-coms have become staples of any Hollywood release schedule and more often than not, it's isn't much more than having two attractive actors making googly eyes at each other. Producers seem to feel that such movies don't need to worry about inserting comedy into the production because there is something inherently funny about falling in love. A prime example of this lazy sort of film-making that I despise is the dreadfully unfunny 27 Dresses (2) which sees Katherine Heigl make googly eyes at James Marsden while various shenanigans occur in the background. The only time I laughed was with relief as the end credits appeared.
Finding a good one can certainly require an element of luck but sometimes, the choice is obvious. Four Weddings And A Funeral (3) is getting on a bit but it remains a thoroughly entertaining - if equally implausible - romance from the pen of Richard Curtis while his follow-up Notting Hill (4) follows its well-worth path with charm, sugary excess and a wonderful supporting turn from Rhys Ifans. Fans of films set in American high schools need not panic if they are looking for something that captures the joy and turmoil of teenage romance. The much-underrated 10 Things I Hate About You (5) is a modern interpretation of Shakespeare's The Taming Of The Shrew and features Heath Ledger in sparkling form as the new kid in school with the bad boy rep. Or if you're looking for something a little different, Gregory's Girl (6) is set in a bleak Scottish school but still has some fun with the unrestrained passions of a hormonal heart.