Never Been Kissed (1999)
Directed by Raja Gosnell
Cast: Drew Barrymore, David Arquette, Michael Vartan, Leelee Sobieski, John C. Reilly, Molly Shannon, Jeremy Jordan, Garry Marshall, Jessica Alba, Marley Shelton.
1999 107 minutes
Rated: (for profanity and sexual innuendo).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, April 10, 1999.
In the last two years, Drew Barrymore has been one of the most delightful and winning presences in all of her films, playing strong-willed, but innocent and kind souls ("The Wedding Singer," "Ever After," "Home Fries"). Her reign as America's cutest, cuddliest young actress working today continues in her latest film, "Never Been Kissed," which is also her production company, Flower Films' debut film (Barrymore also produces). Unfortunately, "Never Been Kissed" is also yet another high school movie (one comes every week, it seems), and out of the many teenage-oriented comedy-dramas that have been thrust upon us recently, this is one of the most weak and sloppily-written.
Josie Geller (Drew Barrymore) is a clumsy and unfashionable, but intelligent 25-year-old copy editor for the Chicago Sun-Times, and her yearning to become a newspaper reporter comes true when her stern boss (Garry Marshall) assigns her to pose as a high school student to write a story on the lives of today's teenagers. Although Josie is in a state of euphoria since her dream has finally come true, her 23-year-old slacker brother, Rob (David Arquette), who really was popular in his adolescent days and an aspiring baseball player, reminds her of how nightmarish her own high school days were. The butt of every joke, Josie was chubby, pimply, had braces, and was given the embarrassing nickname "Josie Gross-y." "Sorry about that," Rob says in the present day. "If I had known it would stick, I would never have made it up."
Returning to high school, right on her first day and dressed in a tacky white outfit and boa around her neck, Josie finds herself almost immediately shunned by all of her classmates once again, befriended only by Aldys (Leelee Sobieski), a generous, unconventional "nerd" who invites her to join the Denominators, a calculus club. Threatened to be fired if she doesn't present a flashy story, and fast, Josie is forced to attempt to become popular, with the help of Rob, who also returns to high school and gets buddy-buddy with the in-crowd right away by winning a cole slaw-eating contest. Regrettably, as Josie begins to hang out with a clique of superficial girls, two of which are named Kirsten and Kristin (Jessica Alba, Marley Shelton), as well as attract the eye of renowned stud Guy Perkins (Jeremy Jordan), she begins to lose sight of what is really important, all the while trying to come to terms with her own high school experience, and growing close to her young english teacher, Sam Coulson (Michael Vartan).
"Never Been Kissed" acquires its title from a scene early on in the film when Josie is talking to her friend and co-worker, Anita (Molly Shannon), on a lunch break. "I've kissed guys before," she says, "but I've never felt that thing." I know exactly what Josie is talking about, but I wish I would have also felt that thing while I was watching this film, which is an uninspired rush-job. Although 107 minutes, "Never Been Kissed" seems to be always moving at such a break-neck pace that it rarely ever has time to slow down and develop any of the characters, and therefore, they all came off as blatant stereotypes (Comparingly, I was reminded of last week's high school entry, "10 Things I Hate About You," which didn't talk down to its audience and was wholly intelligent). In my four years of high school, not once did I ever come across people who acted like the one-dimensional Kristin and Kirstin do, nor have I ever seen someone who acted like the geeky Aldys (even though, as played in a standout performance by Leelee Sobieski, she is the most effective character in sight). On another note, I seriously doubt the real Chicago Sun-Times is like its depiction here, but I disgress. If "Never Been Kissed" is supposed to be a lightweight fantasy, I still have another complaint, which is that Barrymore is supposed to play a 25-year-old who goes back to high school and sticks out a little since she looks older, but the fact is that she doesn't. Unlike "10 Things...," in which the actors really looked like teens, every single central "teen" actor here looks just as old, if not older, than Barrymore. Come to think of it, I believe I just came up with an infinitely more original storyline, which is that every older-looking "teenager" discovers that they all are working for feuding newspapers, and in their rush to get their story out first, have accidentally enrolled in the same high school!
Since all of the characters were unwisely written as caricatures, there is no way I could care about the fates of anyone. Of course, Barrymore is as bright and likable as usual, but even concerning her I began to long for the days a few years ago when she was a more diverse actress, where she could go from playing a sexual predator (1992's "Poison Ivy") to a confused manic depressive (1995's "Mad Love") to a terrified victim stalked by a masked killer (1996's "Scream"). Don't get me wrong: I love Barrymore's sweet image as much as the next person, but I fear she is starting to get typecast in these roles. Giving the best performance in the film is the aforementioned Sobieski (who was snubbed of an Oscar nom for last year's "A Soldier's Daughter Never Cries" and will next be seen in the highly awaited Stanley Kubrick thriller, "Eyes Wide Shut"). Sobieski's Aldys was so nice to Josie right from the beginning that I felt it was a major misstep on Josie's part to begin to snub her as she became popular, since she obviously had been in Aldys' shoes eight years before. On the other side of the spectrum are Saturday Night Lives' Molly Shannon (in her first starring non-SNL feature) and John C. Reilly as another of Josie's co-workers, both of which have their comic abilities put to no good use. Tellingly, Shannon had more to do (and was given the opportunity to be infinitely more funny) on her guest-starring role in this week's half-hour episode of "Will & Grace."
Inevitably, everything leads up to a climactic scene at the prom (If my mind seves me correctly, I've seen three, count-'em, three, other movies this year that also led up to the prom: "She's All That," "Jawbreaker," and "10 Things I Hate About You"). I'm not really sure how, or why, everything always occurs at the prom in movies since, after all, it's only one night of the year. With a major similarity to 1995's far-superior "Angus," the dance concludes with Josie standing up for Aldys and giving a speech to all of the "misfits" out there. In "Angus," it felt more real, while in "Never Been Kissed," just like the rest of the movie, I was constantly making note that the film was simply going through the well-worn motions.
Ultimately, you feel almost guilty about giving a negative review to a movie that stars Barrymore (although I was forced to do it last year with "Home Fries"), but this movie just really isn't very good. It lacks a tightly-written screenplay, smart characters, or any real honest emotions (the movie is mostly steeped in obvious sentimentality). While watching "Never Been Kissed," I was reminded of 1997's wonderful comedy, "Romy and Michele's High School Reunion," which it is nearly identical to in story (aside from the latter set at a reunion). Both movies depict a person (or people) that suffered through the four-year hell that was high school, both feature almost duplicate flashbacks (even though the prom flashback in "Romy" was more heartbreaking and, again, more involving), and both allow the central characters to get back at all of the people who tormented them in a crowd-pleasing finale. One of the points the film wants to make is how ridiculous and cruel some teenagers can be to others. Too bad "Never Been Kissed" turned out to be just as painfully artificial as they are.
©1999 by Dustin Putman