Let's talk about Drew Barrymore, who takes her first pot shot at producing and starring in her own skin (deep) flick, Never Been Kissed. Friends, I dragged myself through a hailstorm to see this the first time, and I would probably drag myself through another to see it again. I'm not going to pretend it's any fire-starter, but as a comic high school movie, it has all the uplift of a cross-your-heart bra with a campy underside that would cheer up even the most straight-faced drag queen. Among movies like Pretty in Pink and Welcome to the Dollhouse, Never Been Kissed falls somewhere in between with its requisite teen pariah and its poofball crescendo that lapses into girl-gets-guy sap. Nonetheless, I found it wry and irreverent in all the right places, with enough saucebox comedy to put it on the teen-flick map. Drew plays Josie Geller, a dowdy-but-dreamy copy editor for the Chicago Sun Times who longs to break free of her behind-the-scenes life. When she finally gets assigned to an undercover feature, the job involves passing as a high school senior in order to write revealingly about the life of American teens. Josie dyes her hair, revamps her wardrobe, swaps her Buick LeSabre for a beater and heads off disguised like a sugar-plum fairy to join the hormonal ranks. Experiencing high school a second time proves almost as agonizing as the first, and the poignancy of her flashbacks are a real hoot, as is Drew's hackneyed make-up job. On the first day of school, Josie heads off to class to the tune of Cyndi Lauper, where she immediately falls under attack by the popular pack for her dorky duds and her brainy ability to unpack Shakespeare's linguistic twists. Scenes portraying her misery conjure Grease and The Breakfast Club in the same way that Scream conjured the vilest moments of every horror classic from Psycho to Silence of the Lambs. Never Been Kissed smacks of Scream's self-spoofery but does not deconstruct itself to the nth degree or position itself as a movie about mimicry. Befriended by a math nerd (Leelee Sobieski), Josie gains immunity by joining the calculus club ("The Denominators"), but the Sun Times wants dirt, and in order to get her feature and retain her job, Josie has to get popular. She finally jettisons herself into the cool crowd with help from her 23-year-old deadbeat brother (David Arquette), who re-enrolls himself in high school and gains instant fame by downing a vat of coleslaw in the school cafeteria. Riding her brother's manufactured rumors, Josie joins the clique centrale and wins the respect of her classmates when she generates the perfect prom theme. The caper climaxes when a smart young English teacher (Michael Varton) falls for Josie's brains and professes his luvvvvv for her at the dance, where she is dressed like Rosalind from Shakespeare's As You Like It. The Sun Times gloms onto this new dynamic and insists that Josie breach his trust in order to write her feature. But she comes up with her own plan, which will win both his respect and the hearts of every Sun Times reader, yadda yadda yadda. I won't give away the rest, but let me just say that, when Never Been Kissed ended, some members of the audience actually clapped.
The movie's charm is grounded by its hyperbolic slights to modern high school life, from the security scanners at the door to the Barbie dream girls who dominate the prom's Technicolor floor. It also riffs on the rigmarole of news and newsrooms, with an enlivening speech at the end by Drew in full prom regalia. Again, integrity triumphs, and our heroine makes a pallid attempt to dismantle the beauty myth in one fell poop-scoop. Compared to most cheeseball scripts, however, this one is at least well-written and well-intended, and the main character gains some dignity even if it comes through a series of goofy faux pas. Fast-paced and at times too precious, this comic romance probably doesn't stand a chance, but I took it with a grain of schmaltz and found it nothing short of hilarious.