Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle Never Been Kissed

By Marc Savlov

APRIL 12, 1999: 

D: Raja Gosnell; with Drew Barrymore, David Arquette, Michael Vartan, Molly Shannon, John C. Reilly, Garry Marshall, Sean Whalen, Leelee Sobieski, Jeremy Jordan, Jessica Alba, Marley Shelton. (PG-13, 107 min.)

Josie Geller (Barrymore) is the youngest copy editor at The Chicago Sun-Times, a fact that gives her great pride. Still, for all her rampant ability to cross the t's and dot the i's of her coworkers, she's bucking for a story of her own. When publisher Rigfort (Marshall, who's way over the top here) throws her a bone during a story conference, she at first is delighted, then terrified. Not only her job but also that of her editor Gus (Reilly) is riding on the assignment. Her mission: to return to high school and re-enroll as a 17-year-old transfer student to find out what the kids are up to these days. At first glance it seems simple enough, but after the first day -- during which Josie manages to do just about everything wrong, from wearing a disastrously chosen ensemble to drenching herself with chocolate milk -- it becomes apparent that this mission is going to be more trouble than she bargained for. With an assist from her baseball-player-wannabe brother Rob (Arquette), Josie makes herself over as one of the popular kids. Then Rob also enrolls and begins spreading juicy gossip to the effect that Josie is indeed the coolest girl in school. The plan works, and she finds herself on the inside of the cool kids clique (brilliantly headed by the trio of Heathers clones Kirsten, Kristen, and Gibby, a gaggle of teen fleshpots the likes of which we haven't seen since Beyond the Valley of the Dolls Ö or at least Clueless). As Josie diligently culls information for her exposé, her English professor, Mr. Coulson (Vartan) begins making eyes at her, a situation her employers feel is just the kind of muckraking journalistic bombshell they're looking for. Caught between her loyalty to the Sun-Times and her budding feelings for Coulson, Josie must decide whether it's love, or war, or just plain old high school chaos she's really after. Never Been Kissed is being marketed as yet another teen comedy and that's something of a mistake, I think, judging by the above-average story by screenwriters Abby Cohn and Marc Silverstein. Granted, Barrymore has blossomed into a terrific comedienne over the past few years, but Gosnell and company lace the comic shenanigans of their film with a hefty dose of the bittersweet. Frequent flashbacks to Josie's real high school days reveal a series of genuinely traumatic incidents that end with a prom-night prank very nearly worthy of Carrie, which in turn results in the mousy copy editor into which the character has transformed at the film's beginning. Barrymore and Arquette take their performances to heart and are clearly having a ball with the material, but it's Gosnell's solid direction that keeps the film afloat. While hardly an original story, Never Been Kissed still manages to get by on wry smarts, barbed asides, and plenty of Barrymore's comic grace.
2.5 stars

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