Never Been Kissed

Before I begin, I must admit that I believe Drew Barrymore is a national treasure. Her last three films, “The Wedding Singer,” “Ever After” and “Home Fries,” proved that the former child star is as talented as she is adorable.

Her latest film, “Never Been Kissed,” proves that star power can overcome any obstacle, including pedestrian plotting. Barrymore is so luminous that she shines throughout this delightful little romantic comedy about a copy editor at the Chicago Sun Times who is picked to do an undercover assignment at a local high school.

Even though the script by Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein is predictable in it’s plotting, it’s also filled with wonderful observations and witty dialogue that more than make up for it. Kohn and Silverstein have created a fairytale based in reality that proves true love always wins out in the end.

In less understanding hands, “Never Been Kissed” could have come off corny and insulting. That’s not the case with director Raja Gosnell, who served as editor on a majority of John Hughes’ films including “Home Alone” and “Only the Lonely.” He also directed “Home Alone 3,” which in my opinion managed to breathe new life into that franchise.

Gosnell has mastered the art of mixing comedy with heart, and “Never Been Kissed” is a hilarious Valentine to the pain, anguish and joy of high school. Who among us has not wanted to be able to go back to high school to get it right? It’s a popular theme, one played out with excellent results in “Never Been Kissed.”

Josie Geller (Barrymore) shines at her job as a copy editor at the Chicago Sun Times, but her life is kind of dreary. Once a high school geek, Josie still hasn’t gotten over the social stigma. When she’s not hanging out with the paper’s designated tramp Anita (Molly Shannon, so very funny), Josie is camped out at home crocheting throw pillows.

Josie’s dream of becoming a reporter comes true when the paper’s crusty editor (the always durable Garry Marshall) picks her to go undercover for an expose on high school. Even though her editor (John C. Reilly) is skeptical, Josie is thrilled at the opportunity to create the words rather than edit them.

That is, until her slacker brother Rob (David Arquette) reminds Josie what a nightmare high school was for her. In flashbacks, we see a stringy haired, plump, mousey girl with a mouth full of steel trying to be hip and failing at every turn. Determined to get a story and correct all of the mistakes she made in high school, Josie accepts the assignment.

Her first few days are filled with one hilarious social faux pas after another, immediately branding her a geek. Since the popular cliques are where the story is, Josie makes several desperate attempts to fit in, but only does so after a favor from Rob, who takes Josie’s cue and also goes back to high school to play baseball and hopefully impress a minor league scout.

Like most films dealing with high school, the writers take the easy route and divide the students up into recognizable cliques. There’s the trio of popular girls who treat everyone else like crap and seem to set the fashion standard, the jocks with skulls thicker than their helmets, the cool kids who hang out and get drunk, and the smart kids who have been branded geeks or nerds.

Even though Josie seems more at home with the later, her desire to rise above her previous status in high school forces her to befriend the terrible trio. It’s a plot device that is as old as the hills themselves, but the cast just sells the hell out of it.

Barrymore is obviously an actress who isn’t afraid to take chances. She purposely put on weight to make the high school Josie less attractive. At the beginning of the film, we see her in a conservative dress and a small bun holding up the back of her unkempt hair. She’s all work and no play. When Josie is allowed to come alive (her impromptu stage show at a bar is one of the film’s highlights), Barrymore makes the transformation believable.

As Josie’s slacker brother, David Arquette is wonderful. There’s a sweet, likeable side to Arquette that doesn’t get out much, and it’s such a joy to see that side of him in “Never Been Kissed.”

Michael Vartan, last seen in “The Curve,” is a double threat as Josie’s English teacher. Not only is Vartan handsome, he’s very likeable as an actor. It’s a tricky role that requires just the right amount of ambiguous interest, and Vartan pulls it off with style. Never once do you feel the teacher is a predator, but someone who admires his student because she’s smart.

The smart kids are well represented by Leelee Sobieski, a stunning young actress who could play Helen Hunt’s sister the resemblance is so close. Sobieski is almost unrecognizable when we first meet her. As Aldys (her mother was going through her Harlequin Romance phase), Sobieski takes what could have been a nothing role and imbues it with real emotion. She’s not only smart and charming, she’s a real looker too.

Gosnell is smart in surrounding himself with a talented supporting cast who bring up the rear while Barrymore leads the charge. There isn’t a bad performance in the film.

I hope that “Never Been Kissed” is a big hit. It reminded me of “The Wedding Singer” in its plotting and characters. It even has one of those great endings that pulls it all together so you can’t help but leave the theater with a smile on your face and maybe even a tear in your eye.



Drew Barrymore, David Arquette, Michael Vartan, Molly Shannon, Leelee Sobieski, Jeremy Jordan, John C. Reilly, Garry Marshall in a film directed by Raja Gosnell. Rated PG-13. 107 Min.


Comments are closed.