|This one also has guns!|
Hailee is Agent 83; an orphan who was raised her whole life by a league of assassins for girls, run by Samuel L. Jackson. 83 is the best of the best, but one lesson never stuck: that she shouldn't form attachments. She discovers movies -- teen rom-coms to be exact -- and falls in love with the idea of living that normal high school life. So when the opportunity rises, she fakes her death and becomes Megan, a Canadian exchange student, finds herself an all-American family, and an all-American high school. One problem: her idea of a "normal high school life?" Not even close to reality.
The really funny part is that this movie's version of reality, which has none of the cliches she imagined she'd experience, has all the cliches from the movies where she got all her wrong ideas! It's quite the fun circle of cliches. I think almost everything that happens in this flick is borrowing from some classic (or at least popular) teen flick. Clueless is blatantly (and also subtly) copied. Mean Girls has its moments; Pretty in Pink; the 10 Things I Hate About You one is pretty obvious. Also I want to say, Paper Towns? Although did the cliche of two drunk people suddenly understanding each other whilst hanging out in a bathtub at a party originate there? Anyway, this movie handled the scene way better than the film version of Paper Towns, so... that might be awkward.
|It's an eternal circle of cliches, where you can have your fun and laugh at it too!|
Besides Hailee and Mr. Jackson, we have the villainess, Jessica Alba, and 83's co-worker (rival assassin) is Sophie Turner. Megan's all-American family includes the typical loner girl who just needs a good friend -- Dove Cameron. At the school there's the hot guy who's in a band (Toby Sebastian), the foul-mouthed dude bro (Gabriel Basso), the mean girl (Alexandra Krosney), and even the teacher who tries too hard to be cool (Dan Fogler). But most importantly there's the unassuming guy who has a heart of gold -- Thomas Mann. Once the film introduced all the characters, I hoped out loud that the movie would be as predictable as I was thinking it'd be, and I'm happy to report that it was.
You might think that a movie that relies completely of the cliches of other films would be trite and irritating, but honestly its connection to those films is where it shines; freshened up by the extra layer of pointing out the cliches, then twisting and having fun with them. There's an original side with the assassin aspect, but the film stumbles most noticeably when it focuses on that. It's a neat idea and understandably you'd want to put time into it; it was just too separated from the rest of the fun. The writing all-around is much smarter than your average teen comedy, and truly funny in plenty of places. They use puns. And I appreciated them! It works because attention is given to character, then characters make jokes that fit them but aren't necessarily funny on their own -- making them funny with personality and circumstances.
|*Holding a stalk of corn* "I think you're a-MAIZE-ing." "That's pretty corny..."|
The brunt of the film's weight falls on Steinfeld, and it shows. Megan is a classic teen heroine and certainly entertaining, but is also on screen all the time, and for some reason doesn't bring the comedy like some of her cast-mates can. She brings it more naturally on the realistic, straight-forward drama side; in the "awkwardly funny" and some of the fish-out-of-water bits, she's more awkward than I think she was meant to. Thomas Mann is ideal for his part (as he commonly seems to be) with his goofy charm and natural sincerity. He was one of few who had scenes without Steinfeld, and he could've had more. Dove Cameron started out boringly and ending up great, which was fitting, and Gabriel Basso continues to impress with his diverse role choices and consistent charm. Sophie Turner is also a fun character.
|Cute homecoming pic gets a bit awkward when both your boyfriends are there...|
So you can't exactly say its original, and it's not like teen rom-coms are typically a high standard for movie excellence... or even romance excellence... or comedic excellence... or much of any kind of excellence, really. The mere fact that Barely Lethal makes itself memorable by being funny, having characters that are a smidge more interesting that you'd expect, and half-way riding the coattails of other flicks that have risen above expectations is more than enough to earn a recommendation, a passing grade, and a license to kill -- but just barely on that last one.