Weekly Wire
Memphis Flyer Special Ed

By Susan Ellis

APRIL 19, 1999:  Who wouldn’t want the opportunity to go back to high school, a la Never Been Kissed, the new comedy starring Drew Barrymore? If I had to guess, I’d say just about no one. What would be the point? We’ve got our own money and we don’t have to get some stranger in a convenience-store parking lot to buy us beer. Besides, if you were a geek then, you’re probably a geek now, a slut then, a slut now, and so on.

That’s the premise in this sweet but trifling comedy. And while Never Been Kissed is nothing to write home about, there’s something to be admired in Barrymore’s head-first approach. Not to mention that it’s hard to pooh-pooh a movie that’s so upbeat in its message about possibilities.

Possibility number one is that chance to go back to high school and really do it right this time. Barrymore stars as Josie Geller, a newspaper copy editor in Chicago, who does just that in her first writing assignment. Possibility number two is her tryout as a reporter, something she’s wanted to do for a long time. Finally, possibility number three is Josie finding that one special guy to give her her first kiss.

In addition to starring in the film, Barrymore produced it (the first for her company). It’s the second feature for the director Raja Gosnell (his first being Home Alone 3) and the debut for screenwriters Abby Kohn and March Silverstein. This may account for Never Been Kissed’s reach-for-the-stars theme.

But before all the glory, there are some hitches. Josie enrolls in high school and finds herself exactly where she was a decade earlier — a loser who’s a magnet for harassment from the cool kids. Flashbacks show Josie’s first go-around, when she had braces, bad skin, and even worse hair. She was also a little too eager in her affection for one boy, which resulted in humiliation. Now 25, she’s a reserved, neat-freak perfectionist who wears knee socks and does needlepoint. When she goes back to school, she gets eaten up alive.

Yet, there’s that little bit of oomph in her that gives her the courage to go for the reporting assignment, and it helps her endure the ordeal. When she gets scooped on a story involving the school’s happening clique, her brother Rob (David Arquette) goes back to high school too, in order to infiltrate the cool kids’ group and make sure Josie gets included. Meanwhile, there’s a young, hunky English teacher (Michael Vartan) making eyes at Josie.

Josie is the most believably human role that Barrymore has played. All vanity is stripped. Her hair is awful, her clothes are awful, and she trips and flails about like a fool. She is someone people can root for, literally, as the unbearably cute conclusion of the film shows. It’s harmless enough, though the profession of journalism gets a beating. Everything works out for Josie. She gets her man and she gets her story, which we hear in a voice-over. It is, even for a make-believe news story … well, the word crap comes to mind. — Susan Ellis



Go

Go is an electric movie, full of bright, flashing colors, with an irresistible destructive edge.

Director Doug Liman (Swingers) careens through the plot of three groups of L.A.-ers who are treading on dangerous ground. Ronna (Sarah Polley, The Sweet Hereafter) is a grocery-store clerk who is about to be evicted from her apartment. Co-worker Simon (Desmond Askew) is an Englishman dying to have some fun in Vegas. Adam and Zack (Scott Wolf and Jay Mohr) are soap-opera stars, who hope to set up Simon in a drug bust so they can get rid of their recently attained police records for possession.

Each of these stories is told separately but each is linked to a drug dealer named Todd (Timothy Olyphant). Simon asks Ronna to take over his shift. She does and then takes over his gig as drug-dealer go-between when Adam and Zack come in asking for 20 hits of Ecstasy. Meanwhile, Simon makes it to Vegas and then stirs up some trouble with a couple of thugs at a strip club. Simon escapes, but has left a credit card with Todd’s name on it.

The humor in Go is dark and oftentimes sharply perverse, as when it’s suggested that the threat of being pinned to a bed by a naked cop is only topped in horror by being cornered into an Amway-like sales pitch. There’s something refreshing about a movie where the bad guys don’t get theirs, and when the light breaks after an evening of crime and bloodshed, everything is like it was the day before. — S.E.



Tango

After Dirty Dancing, Flashdance, and Salsa comes an Argentine film called Tango. Once again, we have the love story, the dancing, and the music that would make a great soundtrack. But there are some important differences between the previous films and this newcomer: less dialogue, more contemplation, and history told through the sensual movements of tango dancers.

Mario Suarez (Miguel Angel Sola) is a movie director whose latest project is retelling Argentine history through its national dance, the tango. He falls in love with the newest addition to the dance troupe, Elena Flores (Mia Maestro). Unfortunately, this delicate beauty is the girlfriend of Mafia boss Angelo Larroca (Juan Luis Galiardo) who is also the financier behind the project. As the situation between Mario, Elena, Angelo, and even Mario’s ex-lover Laura (Cecilia Fuentes) grows more complicated, the dancing intensifies and takes the place of dialogue.

While the rest of the movie leaves something to be desired, the dance scenes are spectacular. The movie guides us in A Chorus Line fashion from first rehearsals to finished full-scale production.

Mario’s musical develops along with Tango. It portrays his imagination, capturing his vision for the show with sensational choreography. Using only the most basic props — a screen and lighting effects — Mario is able to illustrate the violence of the military regime in Argentina, the hope of refugees for a better future, and the overall passion that bursts from the sensuous movements of the tango dancers.

The dance ultimately takes center stage, and the story line, at times a bit shallow, seems to be more of a sidekick. If dancing takes your breath away, this movie will leave you in awe, but otherwise Tango is likely to feel more like a two-hour slow dance with the high-school geek. — Brigitta von Messling



10 Things I Hate About You

Television sitcom director Gil Junger’s 10 Things I Hate About You is a very loosely adapted version of Shakespeare’s comedy The Taming of the Shrew, set among high-schoolers in a beautiful, upper-middle-class Seattle neighborhood. The Bard could hardly complain of this sort of literary mining; he himself knew a good plot when he borrowed or embellished one. Where Shakespeare inevitably turned an old sow’s ear of a tale into a theatrical gold purse, however, Junger rarely rises to the demands or possibilities of his illustrious source. 10 Things is not without an occasional good laugh, but it never transcends the director’s confined, sitcom-segmented understanding of comic development and his frequent pandering to a very low estimation of what sophomoric really means.

Julia Stiles does a nice job with the pivotal role of Katerina, the independent and serious senior student whose sights are set on an Ivy League college and not on the local Lotharios. Without making Kate a bitter recluse or knee-jerk shrew, Stiles interestingly etches a young woman who matured early and finds the popular culture and mores of her peers lacking; she reads, she thinks, and, most of all, she waits — knowing that her real life is about to begin.

Because Kate has never expressed interest in dating, her father, who is paranoid about his daughters’ virginity, decides that her eager younger sister Bianca (Heather Ledger) cannot date until Kate does. Neither her father nor Kate bargain on her crossing paths with a modern-day Petruchio (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who is equally independent and something of a wild man. The two proud, fierce spirits clash, and thereby hangs the tale.

Seattle may be a long way from Padua, but the current American teen lingo of 10 Things I Hate About You is even further from Shakespeare’s tongue. Karen McCullah Lutz and Kirsten Smith’s script occasionally employs a line or two from the original, and the contrast never fails to startle.

Like, you know, there’s the rub.

— Hadley Hury


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