not in our stars, but in ourselves
You may have noticed that I’ve been pretty lazy around here lately. The Hulu queue is being tackled about as assiduously as I’d tackle a porcupine; the Coen Brothers project is at a bit of a standstill until either more of their movies make it onto streaming services or until I get “lucky” with happening upon a (probably heavily edited, commercial-laden) airing of Miller’s Crossing or whatever on TV. Besides, when I watch quality movies, I tend to want to include my boyfriend. He’s very amenable to the majority of the weirdo art-house/international cinema currently idling in my queue, and I’d hate to deny him the opportunity to partake of the many and varied delights of Japanese pink films or what-have-you. He’s been working on a project quite diligently for the past few weeks, and I’ve used that as a convenient excuse for not getting around to watching Solaris. (I will, though, I promise, geez.)
So where has that left me? Well, I’ve either re-watched movies I’ve seen a million times or more (Silence of the Lambs, The Big Lebowski, Clueless – which I guess I ought to write about here someday), or I’ve immersed myself in a nice hot bath of trash. There’s been a lot of SVU recently, because I think it’s federal law that there’s an SVU marathon on at least one channel every day of the year; and, last night, there was Never Been Kissed.
It’s about as silly and flimsy a story as you can get: Josie Geller (Drew Barrymore) is a frumpy copy-editor for the Chicago Sun Times. Her editor-in-chief, Rigfort (Garry Marshall), decides to assign her to an undercover story about high school kids these days. Josie did not have a good time in high school the first time around, but she gamely attempts to dress and act like a cool kid of 1999. Popular kids are just as mean to her in disguise as they were to her when she was a real 17-year-old back in the ’80s, but she manages to befriend Aldys (Leelee Sobieski), a surprisingly Bohemian-looking nerd. Josie also impresses her hot English teacher, Sam Coulson (Michael Vartan), who seems to develop an instantaneous boner when she answers his question about As You Like It, correctly and thoughtfully. She’s having a great time being a dork, but her editors don’t want a story about mathletes: they want hard-hitting journalism about teens having sex and doing drugs and the like. In order to ensure that they can call her attention to a developing story, lest she miss it, they outfit her with a hidden camera in a brooch. The entire newspaper office watches her completely unethical mutual flirtation with hot Mr. Coulson, her acceptance into the cool kids’ clique when her younger brother Rob (David Arquette) enrolls in the same high school (as a 23-year-old) and starts talking about how great she is, and her misadventures with a pot brownie at a reggae club. (Yeah, idk either.) At prom, she dramatically blows her own cover in order to save Aldys from a cruel prank by the popular kids – just when hot Mr. Coulson was about to vow his undying love to her. Once he learns that she’s really 27, and not 17, he gets very upset and storms away. Good old Josie isn’t about to give up, though: she writes a killer column about her second time ’round as a high school student, and how nothing has really changed, but she’s changed, and she’s in love with the English teacher, and she’s never been kissed, so he should rectify that. He does. The end.
It’s unbelievably dumb, and I don’t attempt to deny that. Even bearing in mind that it was the late ’90s, everyone looks absolutely awful (except Vartan, but he’s just a dreamboat and he can’t help it). The high school dynamics are clearly remembered and reconstructed from afar, by older writers who either weren’t paying attention at the time or who’ve pieced together the worst cliches from ’80s high school movies. This is in direct contrast to the high school recreated in Clueless, which – while improbable in some of the more material aspects – is a clear-eyed observation of actual relationships among actual teenagers. No such luck here. Everyone looks like an old newspaper reporter’s idea of a young person; no one talks even remotely realistically; what the hell kind of popular kids from a suburban Chicago high school would ever go to a reggae club on a school night anyway; and so on. I mean, it’s bad. It is objectively bad.
And yet! It is, in my personal opinion, highly enjoyable. You’d never call a Snickers bar a fine food; sometimes, however, it hits the spot. There is a strong argument to be made for the periodic inclusion of cinematic junk in one’s viewing diet, as long as you also eat your vegetables/watch Godard. (Although I, uh, can’t recall ever having watched a Godard film. Oops.) Where was I? Right – at South Glen South High School. It’s patently ridiculous, and I know that. Funnily enough, the first time I saw Never Been Kissed, it was because my sister insisted on it. I made a big show of not enjoying it, and I don’t think I did, really. I was 13 or 14 – much closer to the supposed age of the kids in the film than I am now – and I think all the attempts at teen humor fell horribly flat. They still do. It’s not all that effective as a comedy. But hell if I haven’t grown to love it over the years. Maybe I like it more now that I’m old, closer to the writers’ ages than to the characters’. Maybe I like it more now because I’m a grownass woman who appreciates the forbidden thrill of a reciprocal attraction to a dreamy authority figure (but the thrill of attraction is where it should end; do not act on it; you will not be celebrated and applauded by the entire city of Chicago; life is not the movies.) Maybe I’m just not as obsessed with trying to pretend to be cool: I am not cool, I never was cool, I will never be cool, and I am entirely at peace with that fact. If I may flatter myself, I think I have generally good taste – in film, in music, in TV, in art and culture of all sorts – but I’m not such a snob that I don’t like to slum it once in a while. And this is not the ironic enjoyment of the hipster: I mean what I say and I say what I mean. Never Been Kissed is terrible and I love it.