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Never Been Kissed

Review by Joe Barlow
Posted 9 April 1999

  Directed by Raja Gosnell

Starring Drew Barrymore, David Arquette,
Leelee Sobieski, Michael Valtan

Written by Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein

Never Been Kissed is the sort of film that would thrill the cast of "Mystery Science Theater 3000," the legendary television show which has elevated the process of watching horrible movies into an art form. They'd have a field day with this film's attempted sentimentality, its happy-go-lucky acting style, and the numerous jokes which fall far short of anything so blatant as outright humor. They'd also likely appreciate the story's attempts to bring warm and fuzzy cheeziness to every convention it attempts to embrace. Ah, thank you, movie.

If you've seen the trailer, you basically know every twist of the story. Twenty-five year-old Josie Geller (Drew Barrymore) is a junior editor for the Chicago Sun-Times, though she dreams of pursuing her passion: writing. Her editor doesn't think she's ready to be a reporter, but she finally gets her big break thanks to her youthful appearance. Her mission: go undercover as a high-school student and write a series of articles about the trials and tribulations modern teens have to face on a daily basis. It's a choice assignment; if she does well, it could break her career wide-open.

The problem is, Josie is much too conservative and spastic to be accepted into the elite cliques she's supposed to be milking for story material; she is even, horror of horrors, considered "uncool." Because of her plain, unattractive features (yes, Drew Barrymore is playing an ugly duckling -- more on this later), she is relegated to the outskirts of the school's social circle, eventually befriending a fellow nerd named Aldys (Leelee Sobieski from Deep Impact). Aldys appears to be a sweet, highly-intelligent girl, whose biggest problem is her unusual name. "Try being named after a guitar-playing pussycat," laments Josie in a joke that apparently flew over the heads of the fourteen year-olds who filled the theater.

Even among the monsoon of wretchedness currently playing at your local cinema, Never Been Kissed stands out as a shining beacon of irrelevance, a shimmering tower of "Who Cares?". None of us are strangers to bad movies, but even so, it's fairly rare to get one which is not only clueless, formulaic, and obviously tailored to the lowest common denominator, but completely oblivious to its own lack of merit as well. Never Been Kissed, bless its little heart, actually seems to think it's telling the audience an entertaining story, rather than one full of stereotypes and the cinematic cliches we've seen so many times before. It's rather like watching Casablanca, as performed by a group of first-graders. It's crude, shallow, and insulting. I have absolutely no doubt it will make at least a hundred million dollars at the box office.

As anyone who has seen the trailer already knows, Josie eventually blossoms into a creature of grace and beauty. No surprise there, and the sooner the better: the scenes with the "ugly" Josie are among the most unintentionally funny that I've witnessed all year. Barrymore looks like a woman desperately trying to hide the fact that she's a knockout, rather like Rachel Leigh Cook in She's All That. No amount of crusty hairdos or horrid, overdone zombie-esque makeup can hide the fact that our star is hot stuff, and the way the movie expects us to simply buy into the fiction shows us just how low Hollywood's opinion of the average moviegoer's mentality is. (See also The Truth About Cats and Dogs, Hope Floats, and the aforementioned She's All That.) Nonetheless, we are subjected time and time again to cheap gags involving Josie's confirmed "loser" status while the film meanders slowly towards its utterly predictable conclusion.

One thought ran through my mind like a mantra as I watched this movie: if you're an adult who's so insecure that you require acceptance from a group of high-school students, you've got bigger problems than never having been kissed. The film asks us to cheer for Josie, even as she tries to befriend a group of people who would make Ace Ventura look like a Jedi master. Poor Josie falls in love twice, once with her teacher (Michael Valtan), and once with the school's O.D.M.O.C. (Obligatory Dashing Man on Campus). It's all sweet and gooshy and smarmy, but I wonder how innocent it would've felt if Josie had instead been a twenty-five year-old guy, picking up a seventeen year-old schoolgirl under false pretenses. Would the teenyboppers in the audience still have cheered at the conclusion of the film? Probably not. Double standards are "cool," you know.


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