Never Been Kissed, by Albert W. Vogt III

There are not too many movies that I can think of with Drew Barrymore in them that I do not enjoy.  Some of them are silly.  The Charlie’s Angels movies are in this category.  The two that stand out the most are 50 First Dates (2004) and Fever Pitch (2005).  Because my focus has been on building the number of reviews I have ready to go, I tend to only watch films that have not been reviewed on The Legionnaire.  This is a relatively new experience for me.  Obviously, I enjoy watching movies, but I have a penchant for sticking to ones that I like rather than seeing something different, unless a title comes highly recommended.  This all adds up to me happening upon Never Been Kissed (1999) in my perusal of my various streaming services and deciding to put it on the television.  It has Drew Barrymore as the aspiring but awkward Josie Geller, it has yet to be covered on this blog, but I have already seen it.  On with the review!

One of the first ideas presented in Never Been Kissed is that dreams can come true.  Josie is standing on the pitcher’s mound on a baseball field, and the crowd in the stands is cheering her on, though it has nothing to do with sports.  How we get to this point is the subject of the rest of the film.  Her job is as a copy-editor for the Chicago Sun-Times.  Her encyclopedic knowledge of English grammar and syntax make her perfect for her position, even if it does not endear her to all of her co-workers.  While she enjoys her job, she desires to become a field reporter.  Her supervisor Gus Strauss (John C. Reilly) wants to keep her where she is, despite the number of stories she has pitched and been used by the paper.  During a staff meeting, their editor-in-chief, Rigfort (Garry Marshall), begins demanding that they come up with better ideas for content in order to sell more newspapers.  One that they land on is to send a reporter undercover to high school in order to cover the dangers teenagers currently face.  Rigfort picks Josie, and it is the break for which she had been pining.  Her enthusiasm is dulled somewhat when she goes to her brother, Rob Geller (David Arquette), to inform him of her new assignment.  Rob reminds her of her nerdy high school days when everyone referred to her as “Josie Grossie,” a derogatory nickname that he had invented.  Still, she heads to her first day of class back at high school.  She is enthusiastic, but clueless, and the humiliations start immediately.  Because she is late to her first period, she is forced by the teacher to wear a sombrero.  Later, during English literature, she cannot help but demonstrate how much she knows on the subject, which earns further jeers but impresses the teacher, Sam Coulson (Michael Vartan).  As such, she immediately gravitates towards the brainiacs, and befriends a seeming younger version of herself named Aldys (Leelee Sobieski).  These are people who love education, seldom get into trouble, and therefore do not make for juicy headlines.  Seeing little progress being made, Gus forces Josie to wear a hidden camera.  He will watch the footage and determine the stories to be written.  This leads Josie to a club where a bunch of the more popular kids gather to see live music, which also means spurning a planned get together with Aldys.  At the club, Josie unwittingly ingests marijuana brownies and makes quite the spectacle of herself, which she mistakes for long sought-after popularity.  The next day at school quickly bursts her bubble as the word “loser” is inadvertently written on her forehead without her realizing it, the result of the previous nights escapades.  The person that finally gets things turned for her is Rob.  Seeing Josie’s struggles, but inspired by her charade, he decides to re-enroll in high school to help her get in with the in-crowd and hopefully get noticed by professional scouts by playing for the baseball team.  The plan works because Rob has an innate ability to socialize with the cool kids, and he begins telling them all about how awesome of a person is Josie, even if he does stretch the truth. The pivotal moment comes when the school is informed that their first idea for the all-important prom had been stolen by a rival institution.  When the announcement comes over the intercom, the most popular boy in the school, Guy Perkins (Jeremy Jordan) turns to Josie for a fresh theme.  Josie gives them couples throughout time, and Guy’s backing completes her entrance into the popular set.  Unfortunately, it further alienates Aldys.  Also complicating this situation is a growing attraction between Josie and Sam.  It all comes to a head at prom when, while dancing with Sam, Josie notices a group of cool kids planning to pull a cruel prank on Aldys, who is waltzing with Guy.  It is at this point that Josie decides she cannot take being undercover anymore, and her frustrations with nothing having changed too much since she was in high school boil over in a speech where she reveals her true identity.  Everyone is shocked, particularly Sam, who feels the most led astray.  The paper is not thrilled either until Josie promises a major exposé on her experiences, which will hopefully be read by Sam.  If he responds as hoped, it will be her first kiss.  This is how we get the beginning of the movie.  Though he is late, Sam inevitably shows up and we fade to black with him and Josie embracing, lips locked.

I have a sensitivity toward films like Never Been Kissed.  One of the major themes is bullying.  As somebody who experienced a great deal of this kind of treatment growing up, there were points that hit close to home.  The worst is when Josie has a flashback to her real high school days.  To her utter joy and shock, she had been asked to go to the prom by the most popular boy at that time.  As she stands in front of her house waiting to be picked up, grinning from ear-to-ear, the boy in question approaches, standing through a limousine’s moonroof.  Once he is in range, instead of getting out, he pelts her with eggs.  She goes down in a crying mess, and my heart broke for her.  Because of moments like this, I have long dreamed of having my own coming to Jesus speech with my tormentors as Josie does at prom.  As somebody who has worked in youth ministry, I have wanted to say similar things to the kids with which I have worked.  It is not the right tone to take, even if it does make for dramatic cinematic fodder.  Jesus calls us to be loving, even to those who hurt us.  Bullying is sad, and like Josie, the wounds from it run deep for me.  When you are experiencing it, it is hard to remember eternal truths like God’s everlasting love for us.  It is worse when the bullying is multiplied by a several participants as you see with Josie.  I went through the same treatment, sitting by myself during lunch periods.  In the calmer moments, it is good to remind yourself of the rewards of faith.  They are very much like having your dreams come true, and so much more than having your first kiss.

Another interesting aspect of Never Been Kissed is the fact that the cool kids seem to realize their mistake, and they are all behind Josie in the end.  That may not be the reality of most victims of bullying, but again, one can dream.  In the meantime, if you are going through this kind of treatment, know that my heart goes out to you, and that I am praying for you.  If you want to see a movie where someone transcends this abuse, then watch this one.  Besides, it is also set in Chicago, which is always going to be worth something to this reviewer.

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