Never Been Kissed is a late 1990s romantic comedy starring Drew Barrymore and follows her character, Josie Geller enlisting back into high school to get a newsworthy story. The central conceit of an adult posing as a high-school student is not an original one. Originally made famous in cult 1980s TV show 21 Jump Street (and its recent remake), Never Been Kissed takes an alternative spin by having the adult be a) a woman and b) a reporter rather than a police officer. A solid commercial hit, Never Been Kissed has spawned a number of homages and ripoffs in the years since its release and the story has become one of the staples of romantic comedies.
Josie Geller (Barrymore) is a copy editor for the Chicago Sun Times, who dreams of being a reporter. she gets her big break when she’s told to go undercover into a high school to try and find a news story. Initially skeptical, because her own high school experience was so terrible, resulting in her never having kissed a man, she throws herself into the school hoping to become one of the popular kids. Her natural intelligence and ordered mind however place her with the type of ‘geeks’ who she was friends with at her school.
This does not work for her boss and it isn’t until her brother Rob (David Arquette) also enrolls in the school, begins spreading rumours that make her popular and allow her to infiltrate the ruling clique. While rising in popularity she begins to develop feelings for her teacher Sam Coulson (Michael Vartan), who her editor wants to investigate about the inappropriate way he talks to her. Heading into prom she has to choose between her career and the potential to finally be kissed.
Audiences know the story of Never Been Kissed inside out, regardless of whether they’ve seen the film before or not. There is something comforting about a film that is so formulaic that very little brain power needs to be used on it. The success of the film then relies on the cast and in Drew Barrymore, Never Been Kissed has a romantic comedy diamond. Barrymore has the talent to be sympathetic without being pitiful and to be attractive without being overtly beautiful. Its the perfect blend of likeable and appealing without being threatening that help her, and by extension, Josie such an engaging character.
Surrounding Barrymore is a cast of supporting characters including decent turns from John C. Reilly, David Arquette, Octavia Spencer and early performances from Jessica Alba and James Franco. None are standout performers as most of the Never Been Kissed‘s comedy and action is created from the central character, but they all play their parts to create an worthy addition to the romantic comedy genre and one that would be imitated and copied for years to come.