Back to School #57: Never Been Kissed (dir by Raja Gosnell)


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The 1999 romantic comedy Never Been Kissed is a definite guilty pleasure of mine, and that’s not just because of the fact that James Franco has a small role in it.  Never Been Kissed is a genuinely sweet movie that might not be extremely realistic but is still enjoyable.

Never Been Kissed requires a certain amount of suspension of disbelief, largely because Josie Gellar, the character who has” never been kissed,” is played Drew Barrymore.  Oh, it’s not that Josie hasn’t ever been kissed.  Instead, it’s that she’s never gotten the type of kiss that every girl dreams of getting.  She’s never been kissed by someone who she was truly in love with.  She’s never had the type of romance that everyone dreams of having (especially when they’re in high school).

However, Josie is about to get a chance to find that kiss.  Josie works for a newspaper and her editor (John C. Reilly) has just assigned her to go undercover at a local high school.  Unfortunately, Josie was traumatized by her experiences the first time that she went to high school.  (She wrote a poem for a boy, he responded by asking her to prom and then throwing eggs at her.)  On her first day as a “student,” Josie finds that she is just as unpopular as the last time but now she’s also absolutely out-of-touch with her classmates.  Fortunately, she’s befriended by Aldys (Leelee Sobieski) and, soon, Josie has finally managed to find a place with the Denominators, a group of intelligent students.

Unfortunately, hanging out with the good kids isn’t producing the type of stories that Josie’s editor wants.  He orders Josie to reject Aldys and to befriend the school’s mean girls.  After her brother, Rob (David Arquette), also enrolls in high school, he helps Josie to become the most popular girl in the school.  Soon, Josie is no longer hanging out with Aldys and has been asked to go to the prom by the loathsome Guy Perkins (Jeremy Jordan).

However, Josie has fallen in love with her English teacher, Sam (Michael Vartan).  Sam likes Josie too but, of course, he thinks that she’s a student.  Will Josie tell the truth and risk losing Sam?  Will she be able to maintain her cover even when she discovers that her new friends are planning to humiliate Aldys?  Will Josie ever truly be kissed?

Well, you can probably guess all the answers.  Nothing really surprising happens in Never Been Kissed but it’s still a likable film.  For the most part, the actors all do a good job with their stock roles and David Arquette, especially, is hilarious as a professional slacker who thrives in high school precisely because he’s never bothered to grow up.  (Of course, by the end of the film, his new high school girlfriend is wanting to know what he’s planning on doing with his life after he graduates….)  At no point is the film in any way realistic but it’s still an enjoyable way to spend 110 minutes of your life.

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Back to School #56: 10 Things I Hate About You (dir by Gil Junger)


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A few nights ago, my sister Erin and I watched the 1999 high school-set romantic comedy 10 Things I Hate About You for like the hundredth time.  Seriously, we love this movie so much and, in fact, just about everyone that we know seems to love it as well.  10 Things I Hate About You is one of those films that brings people together.  If you like this movie, I’ll probably like you.

(Want to see true displays of spontaneous sisterhood?  Go to Girlie Night at the Alamo Drafthouse when they’re showing 10 Things I Hate About You.  You will walk out of the movie with a hundred new best friends.)

Why do people love 10 Things I Hate About You?  There’s a lot of reasons.  I love Heath Ledger singing Can’t Take My Eyes Out Of You.  I love watching Joseph Gordon Levitt at his most adorable.  I love that it’s a film about two sisters, largely because I have three older sisters and there is so much about the scenes between Kat (Julia Stiles) and Bianca (Larisa Oleynik) to which I could relate.  I love the film’s quirky sense of humor and its unapologetically big heart.  I love the way the film’s script expertly balances cynicism with sentimentality and humor with warmth.  I love the fact that movie takes in place in beautiful houses and features beautiful people wearing beautiful clothes.  What Erin and I especially love about this film is that, as played by Julia Stiles, Kat is just a kickass chick.

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Of course, there’s a reason for that.  Much as how the superficially similar Clueless was adapted from Jane Austen’s Emma, 10 Things I Hate About You is adapted from Shakespeare’s play The Taming of the Shrew.  Oddly enough, Shakespeare’s plays seem to translate well into stories about high school.  Maybe it’s because his characters are so often motivated by jealousy, romance, and — it must be said about some — by pure stupidity.  10 Things I Hate About You is definitely one of the best of the teen Shakespeare films.

Taking place at an upper class high school, 10 Things I Hate About You opens with Cameron James (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) arriving for his first day at Padau High School and quickly befriending the only slightly less adorable Michael Eckman (David Krumholtz).  Cameron wants to ask out the beautiful and innocent Bianca (Larisa Oleynik) but Bianca’s overprotective father (played by Larry Miller) has decreed that Bianca can only date if her older sister Kat (Julie Stiles) is also dating.  The problem is that all of the boys at school are scared of the outspoken Kat.

So, Cameron convinces the hilariously vapid male model Joey Donner (Andrew Keegan) to pay the school rebel, Patrick Verona (Heath Ledger, so handsome and charismatic and sexy), to ask Kat out on a date.  Joey, you see, wants to date Bianca as well but Cameron is sure that he can win Bianca away from Joey…

Yes, it’s all a little bit complicated but then again, Shakespeare often is.  For that matter, so is high school.

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What matters is that all of this leads to a collection of classic scenes and classic dialogue.  What’s my favorite scene from 10 Things I Hate About You?  There’s so many that it’s difficult to narrow it down to just one.  There’s the huge party where Joey continually strikes a pose and a drunk Kat ends up dancing on a table.  There’s the wonderful scene where Patrick serenades Kat.  Or how about when Kat reads the poem that gives the film its title.  But for me, my favorite scene is that one where, after spending nearly the entire film as rivals, Kat and Bianca finally talk to each other as sisters.  Bianca demands to know why Kat won’t go to the prom.  Kat tells Bianaca about her own previous history with Joey.  It’s a low-key and heartfelt scene, wonderfully played by both Larisa Oleynik and Julia Stiles, and I love it just because I’ve had similar conversations with all of my sisters.

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I suppose this is where I should make some clever comment about having “10 things I love about 10 Things I Hate About You” but actually, there’s more like a 100 things I love about 10 Things I Hate About You.

This movie makes me happy every time I see it.

And, really, what else can you ask a film to do?

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Back to School #55: Varsity Blues (dir by Brian Robbins)


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“I don’t want your finger.”

Bleh!

The 1999 high school football film Varsity Blues has been showing up on cable fairly regularly lately and, seeing as how I’m currently in the process of reviewing 80 of the best, worst,  most memorable, and most forgettable high school films of all time, I decided that I might as well watch the whole thing.

Don’t get me wrong. I had seen bits and pieces of it over the years.  I knew that it was set in Texas.  I knew Jon Voight played a fanatical football coach.  I knew that James Van Der Beek played an idealistic quarterback who clashed with the coach.  I knew that there was a fat guy named Billy Bob, mostly because every time an out-of-state director makes a film about Texas, there’s a fat guy named Billy Bob.  I knew about as much as one could learn from that episode of The Office where Michael Scott shows the film during “Movie Monday.”

"I don't want your truck."

“I don’t want your truck.”

But I had never seen the whole film so I decided, why not?  After all, I had already decided to review several other Texas-set high school films — The Last Picture Show, Dazed and Confused, Dancer, Texas, and Rushmore.  And hey those films were all good so maybe Varsity Blues would be good too!

Bleh.

One of the big clichés about Texas is that the entire state is obsessed with football.  (The other big cliché, of course, is saying that “everything is bigger in Texas.”  As if being a tiny state like Vermont is somehow preferable…)  I’ve always found the whole “Texas worships football” thing to be amusing because I’m a Texas girl and I don’t know a thing about football.  People tend to talk about Texas and football as if there aren’t any fanatical football fans in New York or California.  Ultimately, of course, it has little do with football and everything to do with the fact that the rest of the country loves to hate my home state.  If Vermont was known for being obsessed with football, there’d probably be thousands of articles about the “proud history of Vermont football.”  But since it’s Texas, we end up with movies like Varsity Blues.

"I don't want your painfully obvious at social commentary."

“I don’t want your painfully obvious attempt at social commentary.”

Anyway, Varsity Blues tells the story of Mox (James Van Der Beek), who is a backup quarterback for the championship-winning West Caanan High School football team.  However, Mox isn’t just your average jock.  For one thing, he’s seen reading Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five.  (It’s indicative of this film’s approach to characterization that we never learn whether Mox actually understands or even likes Slaughterhouse Five.  We’re just supposed to be impressed by the fact that he owns a copy of the book.)  Mox wants to leave Texas to go to an Ivy League school.  He doesn’t want to play under the legendarily abusive Coach Kilmer (Jon Voight).  (How evil is Kilmer?  So evil that he poses for pictures like the one above.)   And Mox resents the pressure put on him by his football-crazed father.  (“You throw that fucking pigskin!” his dad shouts at one point.)  As Mox puts it, “I don’t want your life!” and the line is just hilarious because Van Der Beek’s attempt to sound like a Texan is hilarious.

(Tip for actors: If you can’t do the accent, don’t try.  Because I guarantee, if I ever meet James Van Der Beek, I’m going to tell him that his accent sucked and then I’m going to laugh and laugh.  It probably won’t do much for his self-image.  Sorry, James.)

"I don't want James Van Der Beek's career."

“Get me on Hawaii 5-0 because I don’t want James Van Der Beek’s career.”

Anyway, when star quarterback Lance (Paul Walker) is injured, Mox is suddenly the team’s starting quarterback.  And you know what?  Mox is going to play the game his way!  Soon, he is standing up the cartoonishly evil Coach Kilmer and challenging small town Texas’s obsession with high school football.

And here’s the thing: this is a film that wants to have it both ways.  It wants to challenge the philosophy of winning at all costs and it also pretends to be about the unfair pressure that high school athletes are put under.  But you better believe that the film ends with Mox leading his team to victory.  And it’s not so much that Mox wins as much as it’s the fact that you know the film would never have the courage to actually have Mox lose.  The film wants to be celebration of rebellion but, ultimately, it’s just a standard sports film.

And, even beyond that, it’s just not a very good film.  I was shocked, when I checked with the imdb, to discover that Varsity Blues was actually filmed in Texas because the film feels like it was made in California.  It has no authentic Texas flavor to it.  What it does have is some of the worst fake accents that I’ve ever heard in my life.

Mox may not want his father’s life but I don’t want this stupid film.

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“Well, we don’t want your review!”