'Honor Society' review: Memorable teen comedy makes the grade
Courtesy of Paramount+
You probably haven’t heard of the semi-inventive, fourth-wall breaking teen comedy “Honor Society'' due to Paramount Pictures' lazy marketing campaign that relied heavily on the cast of recognizable faces. If this were a Netflix release (why it wasn’t, when it shares a producer with the streamer’s own “To All the Boys I Loved Before” and “The Kissing Booth'' plus one of the principals is a lead from “Stranger Things,” is beyond me) there would at least be some awareness. Right now, there seems to be a consensus that the movie should get buried.
But “Honor Society” deserves attention and is more enjoyable than what little has been shown. Borrowing a few characteristics from Alexander Payne’s formidable high school classic “Election” blended with the sarcastic wit of “Mean Girls,” “Honor Society” doesn’t buck the trend around classic high school cinematic troupes (social cliques, sexuality, and hooking up) but it finds a winning personality in Angourie Rice (“Mare of Easttown”) who earnestly guides the viewer along her character’s trip atop the high-school food chain as she cements a life-long bid to get into Harvard.
Rice plays Honor, a persistent valedictorian who’s carefully spent her high school career plotting a future that involves getting into the Ivy League university. Writer David A. Goodman understands the anxieties that come with college applications, and he implements a unique framing device where Honor frequently breaks the fourth wall and details her conquests and experiences as if it were a one-on-one session. It’s never a mystery what she’s thinking or where her headspace is; so, when a slimy guidance counselor (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) with a key Harvard alumni connection, who’s endorsement all but guarantees admission, narrows down his pool of four potential candidates, it compels Honor to weed out the three outliers and she lays an expansive plan that includes weaponizing her body and charm.
One of those in contention is fellow honor roll student, Michael (Gaten Matarazzo of “Stranger Things”), a geeky “Doctor Who” obsessed nerd who normally keeps to himself but has become Honor’s public enemy no 1. There are others up for the bid, though none of them pose as big a threat, but this is a high-school comedy and it’s not long before the two discover common connections and fall for each other, setting the stage for a complicated relationship with several unpredictable detours Goodman deserves credit for cooking-up.
Directed by Oran Zegman, “Honor Society” might rely heavily on genre cliches to keep things afloat, yet Rice and Matarazzo are suave enough to keep the 90-minute exercise rolling (usually a necessary component in these pantheon of films). But there’s also the unfortunate and problematic nature surrounding Mintz-Plasse’s character extorting a minor for sexual favors (which the movie seems fine with giving him a pass) not to mention the script’s brief flirtation with roofies. Sure, it tries masking these incidents with the cheekiness of Rice’s slick narration, except you can’t see past them once the seed is planted, creating odd roadblocks in an otherwise engaging comedy.
“Honor Society” thankfully swerves around these unnecessary subplots and delivers a better-than-average high school comedy with enough twists and savvy dialogue, (plus a hip, young cast doesn’t hurt) to subvert expectations and live alongside other memorable films of the genre. For a streaming release with minimal exposure or fanfare, you could do worse.
HONOR SOCIETY debuts on Paramount+ Friday, July 29th.