The TV channel VH1 once hosted a program, “I Love the 80’s,” featuring pop culture, historical events and other items of note being snarkily commentated on. While dissecting “21 Jump Street,” someone pointed out the improbability of it being second semester, and not a single one of the student body catching on that Johnny Depp is actually an undercover cop. It’s true that the American public high school, as depicted on screen, is an odd place, peculiarly accepting of the vampires, werewolves, aliens, teens from the future and yes, undercover agents who enroll and cause mayhem. Not once does one of the usual questions arise, such as “May I see your birth certificate?,” “Please provide proof of your last vaccinations, so we don’t wind up with an epidemic on our hands,” or “Why do explosions and people getting hurt always seem to happen when you’re in the vicinity?” Or if they do, they are dealt with off-screen.
It’s usually a given that film characters going undercover as something – whether it be a doctor, nanny or teenager will wind up succeeding impressively, even if they make a few blunders at first. Although “Never Been Kissed,” starring Drew Barrymore, is a movie with a plot more hole-filled than a block of Swiss cheese, it does get it right that a new student, regardless of how attractive ((hello, “Mean Girls,”) probably won’t be swept up by the popular clique by the second day of school. It does, however, have a rather odd portrayal of the field of print journalism, but the movie takes place in the late 90’s, pre-social networking era, which makes it a few degrees more plausible than if it happened today.
When the movie begins, Drew plays a mousy brunette reporter who lives a solitary life with her pet turtles and needlepointing projects, though she does have a more outrageous gal pal, played by Molly Shannon. Drew is, however, very bright and knows the difference between “nauseous,” and “nauseated,” and so her editor (John C. Reilly) gets the bright idea of having her pose as a high school student to do stories – but apparently, just on the popular people, though Drew and we don’t find that out until later. John (I am assuming) manages to introduce this idea to the principal with a straight face, and not only that, but he chooses Drew’s alma mater, where she was unpopular (in the “Carrie” sense, no less). Apparently, every staff member that might remember Drew has retired, or he’s counting on Drew to disguise herself really, really well. Alas, this is not what happens.
Drew does get points for visiting her older brother (David Arquette) who runs a dealership and picking up a car that appears to be in the budget of a teen. But she loses them promptly when she shows up in an all-white outfit complete with feather boa – yes, why one of her friends didn’t advise her to pick up the latest issue of “Seventeen,” I haven’t a clue. She’s also equipped with a hidden recorder that has a direct line to the tech guys at the paper, an arrangement which is described early on as “the all-humiliation network.” Her first day goes less than well, but she does make an ally with the leader of the math team, played by Leelee Sobieski (Hollywood’s idea of an unattractive teen girl), who takes Drew under her wing. Unfortunately, Drew’s editor soon begins to pressure her to infiltrate the popular clique, so after a humiliating incident at a dance club involving a pot brownie, David offers to enroll, too, and any shred of believability goes out the window when the student body not only accepts David, but regards him as a popular star baseball player. His popularity rubs off on Drew, and soon she’s being asked to the prom by school stud, Jeremy Jordan, and included in the A-list group of mean girls. But Drew is more smitten with her dreamy English teacher (Michael Vartan), who also admires her, and while he would never cross the line in ignorance, might just feel differently if he knew The Truth. But after the high jinx die down, life lessons are learned, the truth does come out, and there’s a happy ending. One that would never happen in real life, but then these characters are straight out of Central Casting. Not to mention the high school.