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‘Honor Society’ Assessment: A Winningly Edgy, Stunning Excessive College Caper

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A nervy story of unintended do-gooding, director Oran Zegman’s “Honor Society” is a surprisingly compelling highschool caper conceived with youthful wit, aplomb and a genuinely out-of-left-field twist. Written by veteran TV scribe David A. Goodman (“Household Man,” “Futurama”), its teen protagonist appears a mash-up of Tracy Flick from “Election” and Cher Horowitz from “Clueless.” Possessing the previous’s solipsism and the latter’s self-serving resourcefulness, Honor (a bewitching Angourie Rice) spends her days plotting her technique to turn out to be a Harvard scholar within the subsequent semester.

Honor has rigorously solid this plan during the last 4 years. In her thoughts, Harvard is the one faculty that may assure her a one-way exit from a dead-end place. It’s not that her middle-class life sucks (it doesn’t) or her hardworking mother and father aren’t loving (they’re); she’s simply all too conscious of the restricted choices her small city can present, ought to she return house with a mediocre training.

This overachiever thus appears to have all of it on her résumé: She’s a straight-A scholar with high grades, a philanthropist who volunteers on the native meals financial institution, a self-starter and an athlete who’s based a karate membership. The one factor she’s lacking? The much-coveted suggestion letter from her steering counselor, Mr. Calvin, performed by “Superbad’s” hilarious Christopher Mintz-Plasse, now a slimy authority determine geekily pacing the hallways of one other highschool.

All the time a number of steps forward of everybody, Honor already is aware of that Mr. Calvin is a creep who’s inappropriately infatuated together with her. Sadly, he additionally has the fitting Ivy League connections that would show helpful. Earlier than she will be able to even manipulate this mix to her benefit, nevertheless, Honor learns that three pupils are competing together with her for his favor: shy brainiac Michael (Gaten Matarazzo of “Stranger Issues”), reclusive aspiring playwright Kennedy (Amy Keum) and heartthrob athlete Travis (Armani Jackson), who’s famously relationship the varsity’s prettiest lady.

Honor finds sabotaging the latter two simple. A grasp schemer, she talks the varsity’s drama membership into staging Kennedy’s unique historic play, an all-consuming extracurricular exercise that can certainly hold Kennedy away from schoolwork. Discovering that Travis is homosexual within the meantime, she casually convinces him to participate in mentioned manufacturing, bringing him nearer to the boy he’s lengthy harbored a crush on, thereby interrupting his research as properly. However how one can distract Michael? Can her female charms work on this quiet nerd?

Having made a assured impression in motion pictures like “The Good Guys,” “The Beguiled” and the most recent “Spider-Man” entries, Rice as soon as once more offers a fine-tuned efficiency in a difficult position that asks so much from her. Wearing head-to-toe retro-preppy ensembles — like a kind of teenage Margaret Thatcher — and recurrently breaking the fourth wall as a narrator with a Machiavellian grin and deviously wide-open blue eyes, Rice is aware of that likability is way from what Honor needs to attain, regardless of what society expects of candy women her age. So she crafts her character with a performative facade, softening solely when Honor develops real emotions for Michael — although not earlier than she ruthlessly toys together with her prey. (A hilarious and cleverly edited scene involving Honor’s suggestive act of pencil sharpening is particularly brutal on the poor boy.)

An introverted, secretive geek, Michael additionally step by step grows right into a extra assured character, as Rice and Matarazzo exactly navigate the pair’s thorny nuances and mutual chemistry. Elsewhere, Kennedy and Travis develop stronger on their very own phrases, lastly thriving as their genuine selves because of the unwitting good deeds Honor has completed for them. Kennedy particularly thrives as a dramatist: Her play about Queen Bloody Mary emerges as an implausibly skilled and costly highschool manufacturing, like a psychedelic costume drama directed by Baz Luhrmann.

From “Booksmart” to “Moxie,” from “Crush” to the latest “Something’s Potential,” there was no scarcity of good, full of life entries to the highschool movie canon currently. But whereas these motion pictures play it pretty protected, giving us idealistic worlds the place characters are usually long-established to do or say the fitting factor, “Honor Society” aspires to one thing a little bit extra harmful, rattling the viewers a little bit with a dangerous, even horny edge.

Not every part works. It’s laborious to not want its commentary on gender and sophistication had been additional developed, and the eventual lesson realized by Honor one thing a little bit deeper than the significance of embracing one’s true self. We by no means do absolutely perceive how Honor got here to be the imply lady that she is: There’s solely a surface-level funding right here in her household life and seemingly shut friendships with greatest friends Talia and Emma (Kelcey Mawema and Avery Konrad, each gorgeously costumed if superficially drawn). Nonetheless, this stylishly bouncy teenage romp principally reaps the rewards of its fearless gambles, not least its willingness to deal with youngsters as in-progress people with a darkish facet.

“13 Lives” streams solely on Paramount+ starting July 29.



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