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Smart Girl, Clueless Boy

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 16, 2000


    'Boys and Girls' Freddie Prinze Jr. and Claire Forlani keep crossing paths in "Boys and Girls." (Dimension Films)
With Hollywood primers on how to write formulaic teen romances at their side, and tapes of "American Pie" and "When Harry Met Sally" lying around the VCR, a pair of screenwriters named "the Drews" went to work on their dream project.

Shoplifting from both films wasn't easy, as Andrew Lowry and Andrew Miller discovered. They still had to come up with stuff of their own. Bummer. The result: "Boys and Girls," an adolescent romance that isn't smart enough to mirror "When Harry Met Sally' or crudely amusing enough to get close to "American Pie."

In fact, the film isn't more than an excuse to bring Freddie Prinze Jr. and Claire Forlani – two pretty faces – together.

Luckily for the audience that's going to watch this movie, regardless, both stars are likable and work well together. And as the funny roommate – a regular gig in any romantic comedy these days – Jason ("American Pie") Biggs has his fleeting moments.

After a contentious meeting on a plane at the age of 12, it becomes clear that shy, compulsive Ryan (later played by Prinze) and effervescent, confrontational Jennifer (Forlani) are going to bump and re-bump into each other for years to come. When they discover they're both going to the University of California at Berkeley, their relationship becomes friendlier, especially when both of them get dumped by other people at the same time.

As they get closer, and they continue to seek romance with other people, Ryan and Jennifer compare opinions on love, relationships and doing laundry. She hates commitment. He can't wait to dive into it. She likes to have her laundry sent out; he dreams of doing it with someone. And while these two are basically dancing around each other during their college years, Ryan's roommate Hunter (Biggs) tries desperately to start a relationship with anyone he can find. But it doesn't help that he's an inveterate liar, whose real name probably isn't even Hunter. Meanwhile, Jennifer's slacker-wacky roommate Amy (Amanda Detmer), stays alone in the apartment, jealous of Jennifer's active life, and never completes assignments.

I'd like to commend the "Drews" on the movie's sole salvation: that the woman is the most interesting character in the movie. At odds with prevailing formula, Jennifer's the aggressor, the talker, the observer, the interesting one, not Ryan. In fact, Ryan's rather dull, a prig who stays to himself, does his homework and spends enormous periods of time completely celibate. Here's the cue for a Seinfeld disclaimer: Not that there's anything wrong with that. But in this case, it makes for a rather muted character.

Given this rare opportunity, Forlani, a classically trained British actor, reaps the benefits. She has an extraordinarily powerful presence for such a throwaway project, practically running the movie with her own express engine. She puts more steam and fission in the Drews' lines than the writers – or director Robert ("She's All That") Iscove – probably imagined on their own. And her performance makes it increasingly ridiculous that Ryan would spend all these years so oblivious to Jennifer. Maybe they should have called this "Saving Clueless Ryan."

BOYS AND GIRLS (PG-13, 93 minutes) – Contains sexual situations and flatulence as a "funny" idea.


© Copyright 2000 The Washington Post Company

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