Never Been Kissed
directed by Raja Gosnell
(20th Century Fox, 1999)

While the plot is not airtight, Never Been Kissed succeeds because it does not try to be anything other than what it is -- a quirky, fun, romantic comedy. I adore Drew Barrymore, and she is wonderful in this movie, allowing us to see her as a pitiful, geeky teenager, a plain and mousy young lady, and ultimately as a beautiful, self-confident woman.

Josie Geller (Barrymore) is a copy editor at a Chicago newspaper who desperately wants to be a reporter. The eccentric head of the newspaper selects her to go back to high school undercover and produce a story about today's teenaged youths. Excitement turns to horror as Josie flashes back to her torturous high school days as "Josie Grossie," but she puts all of her effort into fitting in with her new classmates. She eventually "transitions" from geek-dom to join the cool group and develops a real connection with her English teacher Mr. Coulson (Michael Vartan from TV's Alias). Predictably, things go screwy on prom night, but Josie manages to deliver a story that has all of Chicago talking.

The flashbacks to Josie's teenaged years, especially the prom night fiasco, are incredibly touching and painful to watch. The chance to go back to high school and be one of the cool, popular people is almost every geek's ultimate fantasy; as this movie shows, though, such acceptance by your teenaged peers does not guarantee happiness -- what matters most is being true to yourself and to your real friends. The love story component of the movie ends up seeming a little rushed and could have used a little more foundational structure, but its culmination is a beautiful, heartwarming thing. Along the way, there are plenty of laughs, as Josie's attempts to fit in at high school are both pitiful and hilarious.

Look for a definitely pre-Dark Angelish Jessica Alba as one of the cool girls and SNL's Molly Shannon as Josie's friend Anita. David Arquette is quite good (much less annoying than usual) but does not seem to merit the sharing of the main credits.

To be honest, this rather formulaic movie with its stereotypical depiction of high school society could have been a forgettable, disappointing experience had it starred someone without Drew's immense acting ability and natural charm. For that reason, I never tire of watching this funny, heartwarming film.

- Rambles
written by Daniel Jolley
published 2 July 2005

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