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Long Live Princess Drew

By Michael O'Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 9, 1999

  Movie Critic

Never Been Kissed
Drew Barrymore goes back to high school in "Never Been Kissed." (Warner Bros.)

Raja Gosnell
Drew Barrymore;
David Arquette;
Molly Shannon;
John C. Reilly;
Garry Marshall;
Michal Vartan;
Leelee Sobieski;
Jessica Alba;
Marley Shelton;
Jordan Ladd;
Jeremy Jordan
Running Time:
1 hour, 47 minutes
Contains naughty double entendres, some drug use and sex-ed lecture involving condoms and bananas
Drew Barrymore has figured out what works, and what works for Drew Barrymore is this: Cinderella stories.

Lately, princesses are all she's been playing. Last year, there was her new-wave Cinderella to Adam Sandler's Prince Charming in "The Wedding Singer"; the authentic fairy tale Cinderella of "Ever After"; and the unwed-mother Cinderella of the slightly twisted "Home Fries." Now, she's starring as a high-school Cinderella in "Never Been Kissed," a warm and funny, peaches-and-cream-sweet comedy about a 25-year-old nerd who gets to relive her senior year and reinvent herself while on an undercover reporting assignment about teenagers for the Chicago Sun-Times.

The executive producer of the latest showcase for Barrymore's fairy tale charisma? Drew Barrymore. Hey, the lady knows a nice gig when she sees one.

The film itself, serviceably directed by Raja Gosnell ("Home Alone 3") is not much to look at, except when Barrymore lights up the screen, and fortunately that is often enough.

The actress is perfect for these ugly-duck- ling-becomes-a-swan-under-the-metamor- phosis-of-love parts. When she's looking sad and unloved, her ache may not be deep, but it is palpable. You just want to wipe the tears away from her baby-fat cheeks and give snookums a big old hug. (At least I do.) And the young comedienne's screwball flair is not to be underestimated either. Barrymore shows she is not afraid to hide her glamour under a frizzy wig or a goofy set of dental appliances.

True to its title, "Never Been Kissed" casts Barrymore as the lovelorn and languishing Josie Geller, a punctilious newspaper copy editor more attuned to the niceties of subject-verb agreement than to the seductions of a social life. In short, she's a big fat loser. [Note to copy desk: It's only a movie.]

When Josie's first investigative writing assignment calls for the young-looking journalist to masquerade as a 17-year-old at her alma mater, Josie must confront her inner geek, reverting back to the "Josie Gross-y" persona of a cruel high-school taunt.

But let's not get carried away here. "Never Been Kissed" is not the stuff of scholastic Sturm und Drang or even mild adolescent angst. The frothy meringue of its subject matter is about as shallow (and nutritious) as a deep-dish pie.

Yes, the adult is still as much of an outcast as the adolescent was (boo hoo!), but as quick as the wave of a magic wand, Josie becomes a member of the hipoisie – thanks to a fairy godmother in the form of her slacker brother Rob (charming David Arquette), who re-enrolls along with her as a sort of personal trainer in popularity.

In under 24 hours, Rob has not only become the most respected kid in class (by winning a revolting cole-slaw eating contest), but he's managed to rebuild Josie's reputation by proxy. When word spreads that she used to date the drummer of the Big Bad Voodoo Daddies (as if!), Josie's hipster credentials skyrocket. Soon she's on the prom committee along with Kirsten (Jessica Alba) and Kristin (Marley Shelton) – or is it Kristin and Kirsten? – leaving her math-wonk pal Aldys (Leelee Sobieski) in the dust.

Will Josie ever learn that true friendship is more important than superficial acceptance by the in crowd? Will Rob use his baseball skills to get noticed by a minor-league scout and rescue himself from a dead-end clerking job at the Tiki Post, a Tahitian-themed mail outlet?

More importantly, will the dreamy English teacher Sam Coulson (Michael Vartan) overcome his qualms about child molestation and declare his undying love for Josie, schooling her in the extracurricular wonders of a real, grown-up kiss?

Will Josie's whole wacky sham be exposed, leading to a white-knuckle romantic finale and a collective sigh of relief as satisfying as a box full of Mallomars?

I'll never tell. I'm still waiting to find out if the glass slipper fits.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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