Never Been Kissed (1999)
Main cast: Drew Barrymore (Josie Gellar), Michael Vartan (Sam Coulson), David Arquette (Rob Gellar), Gary Marshall (Rigfort), Molly Shannon (Anita), and Leelee Sobieski (Aldys)
Director: Raja Gosnell


Now, this is a wonderful movie, carried mainly by the sweet tender nature of Drew Barrymore as Josie Gellar. Josie's school life was a living hell. Overweight, not particularly hygienic, and way too brainy for her peers, she was subjected to pranks that even made me wince. Most cruel was a joke on her by her crush, resulting in a latent sense of low self-esteem in Josie ever since. But now, at 25 Josie seemed to have it made. She had cleaned up, she had a good job... she was normal. She had to be happy, and she would be if she got that reporting job she so dearly wanted. Josie was a copyeditor in the Chicago Sun-Times, the best. She spent time correcting people's English usage. It says a lot that Drew managed to make condescension charming. Anyway, by a stroke of luck she got that coveted reporting job - undercover as a high school student to get a scoop, any scoop on teenagers today.

So what if Josie was known as "Grossie Jossie" in high school right? She had learned now. She could be cool. She'd fit in. Right?

No.

She turned up that first day in a horrendous white outfit and a really ridiculous white boa. The car she borrowed from her brother blew a tire, she was late and made to wear a Sombero hat as a punishment, and it was all downhill from there. Grossie Josie was born all over again. It wasn't so bad. Josie found friends among the nerds, a group of calculus-loving bunch calling themselves The Denominators, led by Aldys. Unfortunately, the hot stories were where the popular teens were - sex, drugs, etc. - so Josie had to fit in.

Ordinarily we have all the stick stereotypical high school characters in high school - the self-absorbed pretty girls, the friendly nerds, the locker room football jocks, and that one special high school hunk, done countless times in other teenage high-school movies. Yet Never Been Kissed worked in every level. The main reason was Drew. Effervescent, bubbly, charming, yet oh-so-vulnerable, she could make me laugh or cry with the smallest of her facial and lingual gestures. A scene where she described to her colleagues and friends that she had never been kissed and her anticipation of being kissed by the right guy actually moved me to tears. She was also a valiant actress willing to look horrible to portray Josie. Three quarters of the movie she was a fashion disaster zone as well as a free-for-all accident zone. That rasta bum-slapping scene in a bar was probably an all-time-humiliation scene for any actor, and I salute her for doing it. In was only the last half hour when she appeared in that beautiful red period gown, all luminous and lovely, that I recalled how beautiful she could be. She made Josie real. She made me care for Josie, a truly remarkable woman. Without her, I would know the script is a bit hokey at times, and that last Five Minute thing at the end was total melodrama. But no, I took it all in, I rooted for Josie, and I actually cried when the Five Minute was up. How I wished I could actually read the article Josie wrote for the CST. Drew Barrymore, you are a gem!

The other characters add color to the movie. Sam Coulson, her English Literature teacher was a sexy and affable charmer of a man. Now, I know, teacher-student relationship, especially one in high school - eeeuw. But this is no cheap tawdry sex thing. It's a relationship of two persons who understand each other better than any others. Sam was the man of poetry and magic Josie was looking for. With Josie, Sam had someone who could understand hwat he was talking about, his dreams, his insecurities. They are a perfect couple, and they both know there are lines they cannot cross because of Josie's apparent age. Their relationship was briefly shaped out in a few scenes: Josie startling him with a very good answer about the origin of the term 'pastoral', a romantic close-up of his face as he listened to Josie read out her analysis of Shakespeare's As You Like It (the disguises in that play had a lot of relevance to this movie after all), a memorable talk on a roller coaster (surprisingly tender in their exchanges), and ultimately the look of disappointment, yearning, and envy on his face as he watched Josie danced with the high school hunk on Prom Night. Michael Vartan's easy, lazy charm reeled me in. Why couldn't my high school male teachers look like him? I'd take up English Lit then.

Anita, Josie's friend had a very memorable scene as an impromptu sex-ed teacher in Josie's high school. It was a very revealing scene as she inadvertently blurted out her disillusionment with her happy-go-lucky life. "You're too young," she told the kids, "when you've lost your virginity at the back of a van during a Guns N Roses concert to a boy named Rocky, you know you should have listened to your mother," she told them in surprising fervor. Anita's very brief scenes that hinted on a blooming romance between her and Josie's blustery, all-hot air but ultimately a lonely softie of a boss Rigfort was touching too. Then there was Rob, Josie's brother who ultimately helped her become accepted. He returned to high school under fake pretenses - and ID - just to get a second chance at life. A former baseball star in high school, he was reduced to working at Tiki-Post after a series of bad choices. Now, if only he could play in the high school team and win a scholarship... Rob's story was underdeveloped, a shame really, for this easy-going man who had a lot of painful regrets in him had a good story to tell, one that might even be more compelling than her sister's. Finally, there was glorious Aldys. She was way more beautiful than the pretty girls in that movie. Sober and mature for her age, with that long glorious hair and an almost ethereal yet formidable aura of destined-for-greatness around her, she was shunned because she was too brainy, too wise for her age. Josie saw herself in Aldys, and they became good friends. Aldys too, had a story to tell. Hopefully she would, someday.

One magnificent final touch to this movie is the music. There is one scene when Aldys, beautiful and triumphant, as she turned on the dance floor with Guy the Hunk, her face vulnerable and disbelieving (The most popular guy... dancing with me?), unaware of the joke that was about to be played on her. Josie saw this, and in a brilliant touch, spinning Aldys morphed in young Josie, spinning happily in anticipation of her own prom night. And in the background there was this slow, romantic number crooning about a night to remember. It was brilliant, a scene that made me aware of the intense connection between Josie and Aldys, and Josie's determination that for Aldys, this would be a night to remember for the right reasons.

You go, Josie girl! We rebels, bookworms, geeks, the ugly, the overweight, the scrawny, the pimple-riddled, the stutterers, the shy and awkward... we will all be cheering you at the finishing line.

Rating: 92


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