Go into any high school in America today, and you're as likely to find a film crew working on the "hottest new teen-comedy" as you are students lounging by the lockers. Despite the best efforts of even the most ruthless hall monitors, the US education authorities have yet to properly flush these camera-waving pests out of its system. But, to be fair, the most recent bout of schooly flicks haven't been too rough. And, judging by box-office receipts, the American public hardly seems tired of the ongoing pubescent antics.
The latest, Never Been Kissed, may lack the offbeat cheekiness of 10 Things I Hate About You and the perkiness of She's All That, but it surpasses both in terms of dealing with the downright nastiness of school life. Barrymore's done cute kiddie, notorious wildchild and sweetly sexy romantic lead, but the flashback scenes in Never Been Kissed reveal an entirely new side of Drew: a dumpy, greasy-haired, metal-mouthed dork who's laughed at, egged by her supposed prom date and horrifically humiliated at every opportunity.
She's so convincing, it's actually quite distressing at points - - but that doesn't mean the movie is without its laughs. The comedy set-up is perfectly executed, with ex-freak Josie trying to fit in as a `cool' kid and failing horribly. Barrymore proves her worth as a comic actress, delivering the gags with impeccable timing while displaying a touching level of vulnerability and awkwardness. Of course, with the help of a little hash cake and her drop-out brother Rob (Arquette), Josie gets the hang of this `cool' thing and eventually has the last laugh.
Towards the end, Never Been Kissed starts to go a bit wrong. The beast called Schmaltz rears its syrupy head and demands a shaky romance (with English teacher Michael Vartan) which will result in a fluffy ending. So, when Josie does finally write her career-saving story, it's nothing more than a trite tale of how she's fallen in love with someone and got the chance to experience one of those `special love' kisses with him. Still, the lazy conclusion can't muddy the memory of an otherwise thoroughly likeable teensploitation rom-com.
If The Wedding Singer wasn't enough to prove Barrymore's comic talents, then this surely will. Her transformation from greasy teen to over-age prom queen is amusingly convincing, although a ropey finalé does rain on her comedy parade.