Review: Barrymore shines in 'Never Been Kissed'
April 8, 1999
By Reviewer Paul Clinton
(CNN) -- Pass the Clearasil: Drew Barrymore's latest movie has now joined the onslaught of teen-age, high school-related films flooding our nation's cineplexes. In "Never Been Kissed," she plays a 25-year-old newspaper reporter who returns to high school to write a story about the behind-the-scenes action among adolescents.
Barrymore, who is also a producer on the project, plays Josie Geller, a young woman who was a geek to the core in high school. Her nickname was Josie Grossy, which should give you an idea.
Now, it seems she's destined to the same fate when she returns eight years later to a world that wholeheartedly rejected her the first time around.
Of course, once again our hapless heroine is rejected by the "cool" kids, as she desperately tries to fit in. Her attempts to attract the "hottest" guy in school, played by Jeremy Jordan, are pathetic.
However, she is embraced by the nerdy crowd, most notably by a girl named Aldys, played by Leelee Sobieski. But her job assignment is to infiltrate the fast-track crowd, so she rejects Aldys and her friends and forges onward.
Keep in mind that "Never Been Kissed" is a romantic comedy. Therefore, we must have a love interest for Josie. Luckily, screenwriters Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein avoid having Josie jump into the sack with a 17-year-old. Instead, she catches the eye of one of her teachers. Apparently this guy, played by Michael Vartan, somehow connects to the real 25-year-old woman within. Either that or we'd have a remake of "Lolita."
Also good: Watch for Sobieski, who plays Barrymore's nerdy pal. This is a young actress with a future. You may remember her from the recent film "A Soldier's Daughter Never Cries," and you'll be seeing her soon as the title character in an epic television mini-series about Joan Of Arc.
Big brother steps in
But the main problem remains: Josie just can't seem to break into that elusive, magical group of "cool" kids. Eventually she has to be saved by her slightly older brother, Rob, played by David Arquette.
Rob's now living a dead-end life, but for him high school was the high point of his existence. So he, too, decides to return to school undercover, where he's hoping to turn back the clock and get a baseball scholarship to college.
Once back in place as a "cool" dude with the teen-age set, Rob eases the way for Josie into the "in crowd." Once there -- surprise, surprise -- she finds that being "cool" isn't necessarily all it's cracked up to be.
There are two words which describe why this film works: Drew Barrymore. Her comedic timing and willingness to go all out in her quest for a laugh combine to make "Never Been Kissed" a gratifying movie-going experience.
There were times when Barrymore looked truly terrified when doing some of the over-the-top comedy. When she was dancing away on stage at a school dance I swear I could see real panic in her eyes. But it worked for her character -- who was also supposed to be scared out of her wits.
Director Raja Gosnell made his directorial debut with "Home Alone 3" and for years worked as an editor and protege of Robert Altman. Gosnell also worked as an editor for filmmaker Chris Columbus. Both prior experiences show in his use of the camera and his comedic touch.
Much of story doesn't work
Now, what didn't work? Just like high school itself, there seem to be too many characters here and not enough plot. That high school heartthrob pursued by Josie is anything but sexy. Jordan, the actor playing Mr. Hotshot, is built like a wet noodle and looks like the love child of k.d. lang and David Foley.
Then the bad-news capper comes when Drew's character is so helpless regarding her own fate that she has to be rescued once more by her cool brother. It would have been much more interesting if she had turned the tables on her own.
Meanwhile, her final speech -- which felt like a sermon from the mount -- preaches the message "find out who you are and try not to be afraid of it." This would have played better if she had more control of the ending instead of her brother.
And don't get me going on the ending. This is one of those films that just doesn't know when to end.
But never mind all that -- "Never Been Kissed" is still worth seeing if you like Barrymore, this genre, or both.
"Never Been Kissed" is rated PG-13 for sex-related material and some drug content. 107 minutes.
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