2 items from 1999
Movies based on "Saturday Night Live" characters have a checkered history. They range from a cult hit ("The Blues Brothers") and super smash ("Wayne's World") to many misfires ("Coneheads", "A Night at the Roxbury", "It's Pat" and "Stuart Saves His Family"). Obviously, what plays well in short sketches cannot necessarily be sustained for a feature-length film.
Now comes "Superstar", which revolves around Molly Shannon's "SNL" character Mary Katherine Gallagher, a hyperactive Catholic schoolgirl who moves within her own mental force field. This character is definitely an acquired taste and, even then, unlikely to appeal to enough people for "Superstar", indifferently directed by Bruce McCulloch, to achieve more than cult status during its theatrical exposure. Mary, alas, appears destined to return swiftly to the small screen in video and various TV ancillary markets.
Shannon says she created the character on the spot during an acting class improv. What may have been instantly funny at that moment of inspiration -- and has been sustained throughout Mary's "SNL" career -- has never been examined in enough depth to qualify as a movie character.
Mary trips over objects, kisses sign posts and trees and is generally -- and for good reason -- disliked by her schoolmates. But what exactly is the joke here?
Presumably, SNL Studios hopes viewers will identify with Mary's teenage struggles to carve her own niche in the world. But when actors well past 30 -- including Shannon -- are playing teens and the "SNL" imprint decrees a certain semi-hipness, this won't wash. The SNL gang wants Mary to be cool and uncool at the same time.
The story concocted by Steven Wayne Koren gives Mary one goal in life: to be kissed. When Catholic Teen magazine sponsors a talent contest at her school with the grand prize being a trip to Hollywood to be an extra in a movie, she somehow believes this represents the opportunity to make her dream come true.
Clearly, this is barely enough plot to stretch over the 82-minute running time. While the filmmakers throw in lame musical numbers and movie parodies to pad the material, Mary drifts aimlessly through often repetitive scenes.
Will Ferrell as the school heartthrob and Elaine Hendrix as its Miss Popularity prefer broad acting styles more at home in TV sketches. But Harland Williams as the school psycho, Mark McKinney as its principal and Emmy Laybourne as a gawky basketball star all deliver characters with some depth.
And the presence of Glynis Johns adds a touch of class to any movie. But what a shame these filmmakers think that the utterance of the f-word by an actor of her stature is hilariously funny.
Below-the-line credits demonstrate a flair for the ordinary.
Producer: Lorne Michaels
Director: Bruce McCulloch
Writer: Steven Wayne Koren
Based on a character created by: Molly Shannon
Executive producers: Robert K. Weiss, Susan Cavan
Director of photography: Walt Lloyd
Production designer: Gregory Keen
Music: Michael Gore
Co-producers: Erin Fraser, Steven Wayne Koren
Editor: Malcolm Campbell
Mary Katherine Gallagher: Molly Shannon
Sky: Will Ferrell
Evian: Elaine Hendrix
Slater: Harland Williams
Father Ritley: Mark McKinney
Grandma: Glynis Johns
Helen: Emmy Laybourne
Running time -- 82 minutes
MPAA rating: PG-13
While "Never Been Kissed" isn't the first comedy about revisiting high school, it's the only one lucky enough to have Drew Barrymore in the lead.
A delightful, cringe-inducing trip back to one of the most awkward times in most people's lives -- except, perhaps, the captain of the football team and the head cheerleader -- the Fox release gets crowd-pleasing marks thanks largely to Barrymore's winning, fearlessly geeky performance.
Departing from traditional date-movie demos, "Kissed" should have men and women enthusiastically puckering up to big boxoffice effect.
Barrymore plays Josie Geller, a smart Chicago Sun-Times copy editor and charter member of the grammar police who's aching to have a Page 1 byline, not to mention her first real head-over-heels, toe-curling love affair.
She manages to get a shot at both thanks to an undercover assignment that has her returning to high school eight years after she graduated to report on the lives of today's teens.
Fear of being found out is significantly superseded by her terror of reliving a particularly painful adolescence. Not only was she a card-carrying, braces-wearing, first-class nerd, but her cruel classmates used to call her "Josie Grossie", a name incidentally coined by her cool brother Rob (David Arquette).
It appears history is about to repeat itself as Josie, eager to be accepted by any group, befriends the nice but geeky Aldys (Leelee Sobieski). Fortunately, thanks to a little push from her take-no-prisoners editor (Garry Marshall), the supportive presence of her cute and sensitive English teacher (Michael Vartan) and intervention from her brother, Josie ultimately prevails.
While the picture is essentially another Cinderella story for Barrymore, she makes it fresh thanks to her seemingly innocent ability to be thoroughly adorable without a trace of preciousness or cloying cuteness.
Her willingness to plumb the murkier depths of geekdom will have countless viewers squirming along with her when not laughing themselves silly.
She is surrounded by a very capable cast. Arquette puts in one of his most satisfying performances as her ever-popular brother. Sobieski, who could easily play Linda Hunt's kid sister, adeptly plays the part of the much-maligned overachiever who wears her glasses like a sheet of armor.
Also good is Marshall as Josie's big-stick-wielding editor; John C. Reilly as her weary, immediate boss; Molly Shannon as her guy-hungry co-worker; and Vartan as her smitten teacher.
Although some of the serious passages can get a little squishy in the dialogue department, including an exchange between Barrymore and Vartan that unintentionally conjures up the name Lolita, the situations generally ring all too true.
Behind-the-camera performances are across-the-board pleasing, including great song cues -- a bit of Madonna here, a slice of Pat Benatar there, a marching band wrestling with the opening strains of "The Simpsons" theme -- that neatly sum up the eternally surreal high school experience.
NEVER BEEN KISSED
20th Century Fox
Fox 2000 Pictures presents
A Flower Films/Bushawood Pictures production
Director: Raja Gosnell
Screenwriters: Abby Kohn & Marc Silverstein
Producers: Sandy Isaac, Nancy Juvonen
Executive producer: Drew Barrymore
Director of photography: Alex Nepomniaschy
Production designer: Steven Jordan
Editors: Debra Chiate, Marcelo Sansevieri
Costume designer: Mona May
Music: David Newman
Music supervisors: Mary Ramos-Oden & Michele Kuznetsky
Casting: Justine Baddeley & Kim Davis
Josie Geller: Drew Barrymore
Rob Geller: David Arquette
Anita: Molly Shannon
Gus: John C. Reilly
Rigfort: Garry Marshall
Sam Coulson: Michael Vartan
Aldys: Leelee Sobieski
Running time -- 107 minutes
MPAA rating: PG-13
2 items from 1999
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