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
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 seems to have it made. She has cleaned up, she has a good job… she wis normal. She has to be happy, and she would be if she gets that reporting job she so dearly wanted. Josie is a copyeditor in the Chicago Sun-Times, the best. She spends time correcting people’s English usage. It says a lot that Drew manages to make condescension charming. Anyway, by a stroke of luck she gets that coveted reporting job – going 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 has learned now. She can be cool. She’d fit in. Right?
She turns up on the first day in a horrendous white outfit and a really ridiculous white boa. The car she borrowed from her brother blows a tire, she is late and made to wear a Sombrero hat as a punishment, and it is all downhill from there. Grossie Josie is born all over again. It isn’t so bad. Josie finds friends among the nerds, a group of calculus-loving bunch calling themselves The Denominators, led by Aldys. Unfortunately, the hot stories are where the popular teens are – sex, drugs, etc – so Josie has 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 works on every level. The main reason is Drew Barrymore.
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 describes to her colleagues and friends that she has never been kissed and her anticipation of being kissed by the right guy can be unexpectedly moving. She is also a valiant actress willing to look horrible to portray Josie. For three quarters of the movie she is a fashion disaster zone as well as a free-for-all accident zone. That rasta bum-slapping scene in a bar is probably an all-time-humiliation scene for any actor, and I salute her for doing it. It is only the last half hour when she appears in that beautiful red period gown, all luminous and lovely, that I recall how beautiful she can be. She makes Josie real. She makes 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 take it all in, I root for Josie, and I actually cry when the five minutes was up.
The other characters add color to the movie. Sam Coulson, her English Literature teacher is 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 is the man of poetry and magic Josie is looking for. With Josie, Sam has someone who can understand what he is 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.
Anita, Josie’s friend has a very memorable scene as an impromptu sex-ed teacher in Josie’s high school. It is a very revealing scene as she inadvertently blurted out her disillusionment with her happy-go-lucky life. “You’re too young. 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 tells them in surprising fervor. Anita’s very brief scenes that hint on a blooming romance between her and Josie’s blustery, all-hot air but ultimately a lonely softie of a boss Rigfort were touching too.
Then there is Rob, Josie’s brother who ultimately helps her become accepted. He returns to high school under fake pretenses – and ID – just to get a second chance at life. A former baseball star in high school, he is 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 is 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.
One nice 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, her face vulnerable and disbelieving, unaware of the joke that was about to be played on her. Josie sees 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 is this slow, romantic number crooning about a night to remember. It was brilliant, a scene that makes 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.