When I was in high school, I prepared for the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) by reading a book called Up Your Score: The Underground Guide to the SAT. I was an idiot back in those days, though such is the foolishness of youth. I was aware of the myriad of other preparation materials, but my perusal of them in the book store did not catch my fancy. What did was Up Your Score. It has gone through several editions since my day, but there were two things about it that appealed to me. The first was that it was written by a group of people that had each achieved perfect marks on the test. One thing that has not changed since my teenage years: I appreciate the insight of those who have been through something that you are about to do. Secondly, each had their own facetious method for getting ready for the expected moment. Though I see things differently today, my favorite at the time was the fellow that suggested staying up all night the day before the test cramming because, after all, there is plenty of time to sleep the first year you are dead. This is not all some elaborate tangent into which I have stumbled. Instead, it is meant to back our way into today’s film, The Perfect Score (2004).
Like the book I used to get ready for the SAT, The Perfect Score focuses on six people taking the same test. The star, though, is Kyle (Chris Evans). He is a high school senior with aspirations of going to Cornell University and becoming an architect. His best friend Matty (Bryan Greenberg) has his own college plans, but of a less lofty nature: going to the same school as his girlfriend. Their previous practice runs of the test have shown that getting to where they want to go will prove difficult, if not impossible, and they believe they have to figure out a way around the future crushing exam. It would all be so much easier if they could have all the answers ahead of time. As circumstance would have it, one of their classmates’ father, Francesca Curtis (Scarlett Johansson), owns the building where Educational Testing Service (ETS) is headquartered in town. It is this discovery that gives Kyle an idea: break into the ETS offices and steal the answers to the test. His justification is simple. The SAT is an arbitrary exam that does not truly measure one’s ability, and should not stand in the way of anyone’s dreams. We will later discuss the merits of this theory. For now, being high school teenagers, they have a bit of a problem keeping their mouths shut about the plan, especially when Kyle lets his attraction for the brainy Anna Ross (Erika Christensen) affect his judgement. She has had her own struggles with the SAT, and the pressure of her parent’s dream of her going to Brown University beginning to get to her. As such, when Kyle tells her his and Matty’s idea, she wants to be a part of the cabal. Matty does not like another person in on the scam, and his confrontation with Kyle over this issue in the restroom leads to Roy (Leonardo Nam) coming on board when he overhears what the two friends are discussing. Roy is harmless, aside from being perpetually high, and, of course, a computer genius. It is Anna that brings on the last part of their group: school basketball star Desmond Rhodes (Darius Miles). He needs at least a 900 on the test in order to attain his own goal of playing basketball for St. John’s University. Their first attempt involves Francesca getting Kyle and Matty into the building with fake identification cards. Yet, when they believe they are on the cusp of success, their plans are thwarted when they find they are unable to get the answers printed as they expected. After some bickering among them, and threats of backing out, they decide to move forward with an after-hours operation. It is James Bond/Mission Impossible-esque, or at least as much as high school teenagers can muster. This means that their initial mission parameters, if you will, go completely off the rails. Those that were supposed to stay outside as lookouts end up getting impatient and going into the building, thus increasing their chances of getting caught, and Roy has to guess at a computer password. Despite the Scooby Doo-like antics, they are able to get the sought-after answers, though it comes at the price of Matty sacrificing himself by being arrested so that the others can get away. It is Francesca who bails him out of jail. Interestingly, when it comes time for them to all take the test for which they have strove so hard to cheat, they each decide not to use the answers they obtained. They sit the exam, get the scores they need anyway, and all get to go on to do something great. The last few scenes show them all doing these things post high school.
On the day of the test, when they each believe they are the verge of The Perfect Score (see what I did there?), when they all refuse the cheat sheet they developed, Matty asks the logical question: was this all for nothing? Kyle protests, and eventually goes on to architecture school, though at Syracuse University. Desmond attends St. John’s, and his mother helps Roy get off drugs. Anna decides to travel Europe. Finally, Francesca and Matty end up together. The title has the word “perfect” in it, and Christianity has a lot to say on this topic. In relation to the movie, it seems to speak directly to the test, but taken in a more general sense, can be applied to learning to live with circumstance. There is a saying about how we plan and God laughs. Some might feel derisiveness in this sentiment, but I have always understood it to be good natured. And it is good, too, because all things work for God’s glory. Mankind is happiest when we can learn to accept our lives as they are, and not concern overly concern ourselves with what they could or should be, the operative word being “overly.” It is good to have goals, and Desmond and Kyle are testaments to this fact. Alternatively, the others find different paths because that is what God brings into their lives. One does not need elaborate aspirations to find peace. Again, it is about learning to cooperate with what God wants of us. That is true perfection. Granted, the film is not too focused on such deep lessons, but they can be found if you know how to look.
For the record, I never got The Perfect Score. I mean on the SAT. The movie is easy enough to understand, and just as forgettable. Still, it is fun to see Chris Evans and Scarlett Johansson in their younger years before the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) got a hold of them. This was back during Johansson’s smoking phase, though that does not mean anything. As for the movie, meh. It is nothing special.