Never Been Kissed

I have to admit, I’ve been a fan of Drew Barrymore since Poison Ivy. This is a slightly
naughty film that also stars Roseanne’s Sarah Gilbert and Tom Skerrit, whom I’m not a big fan of. Anyway, the film stars Barrymore as a Lolita-like teen hired to help around the house when Skerrit’s wife gets sick or is in an accident or something. Anyway, you know how it goes, one thing leads to another and Skerrit and Barrymore, to quote my friend Michael Mazzilli, “get it on.” The wife kills herself, Gilbert’s character catches her dad and Ivy in bed and is understandably screwed up by this, and the whole thing is tragic, etc. etc. Anyway, this movie made me a fan of Barrymore. Perhaps for the wrong reasons. Hmm. Anyway…I really became a fan of Drew Barrymore after The Wedding Singer. This is a sweet little movie starring Barrymore and Adam Sandler as two lovebirds destined for each other, despite the usual 2-dimensional villainous love interests. Barrymore has, as Jay Carr of the Boston Globe wonderfully put it (paraphrasing Dreiser, I think), a “face that inspires yearning.” She makes you want to make everything perfect for her, to give her whatever she wants. She’s adorable.

Barrymore plays this role to a tee in her newest film, Never Been Kissed. It’s a sweet movie focused around high school, a genre that has been pushed by Hollywood lately (see my review of Election).

In Kissed, Barrymore plays a reporter, Josie, who works for the Chicago Sun-Times. In the breakthrough assignment of her career, Josie is sent undercover to a high school for a human interest story. Of course, Josie, who was at the top of her class at Northwestern, was not exactly the most popular student at her high school–a fact which is related through a series of heartbreaking flashbacks. Josie seems headed for disaster during her undercover assignment, failing so miserably to infiltrate the “popular” clique that she is mistaken for a Special Ed student. Enter David Arquette as Josie’s brother Rob, a 23-year-old wash-out looking for one last chance at making it into minor league baseball by going back to high school and joining the team. Of course, he becomes popular in a single day, and uses that popularity to make Josie into a high school star.

Barrymore plays the insecure Josie with a perfect blend of intellectual confidence and social ineptitude. As she becomes more and more mired in the culture of the popular clique, we see her fight against it inwardly, remembering the smart, slightly geeky girl who first befriended her (played by the wonderful Leelee Sobieski). Of course, there’s a love interest as well–Sam Coulson, Josie’s Shakespeare teacher, played by Michael Vartan, whose job it is to basically stand around and look attractive.

There are a few misfires in the film. The flashbacks to Josie’s high school experience occasionally ring false with their viciousness–particularly the scene in which she waits for her prom date. The way that Vartan’s Coulson flirts with Josie seems so improper that I almost want to agree with her boss when he tells her that Coulson’s scandalous behavior should be her story. And finally, there’s the rather implausible final scene, which I won’t ruin for the reader; I’ll refer to it as Roger Ebert did, as the “5-minute wait.”

The one amusing, if rather cheap, scene is the one in which Coulson’s girlfriend is introduced. I’ve never seen the “other man/woman” character be introduced and revealed in all their evil 2-dimensionality so quickly. Even Billy Zane’s character in Titanic had a few minutes before he became totally evil. It’s a nice counterpart, however, to Barrymore’s similarly shallow boyfriend in The Wedding Singer.

Overall, Never Been Kissed is a charming, entertaining crossover between the high school coming-of-age film and the romantic comedy. It doesn’t break any new ground, but it doesn’t do anything too wrong, either. While I don’t recommend it for those who are troubled by scenes of extreme embarassment–I cringed through half this film–it’s still a nice film for a date on a Saturday night.

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