Without thinking about it too much, the basic premise of Raja Gosnell’s Never Been Kissed sounds perfectly fine: an adorkable young adult gets a high school do-over. What could go wrong?
And indeed, roughly the first half of Never Been Kissed is likable, powered almost entirely by Drew Barrymore’s trademark charm and quirk. But the plot begins digging a hole for itself as soon as her teacher’s (Michael Vartan) attention becomes more overtly sexual, her newspaper’s motivations turn crass and exploitative, her nerdy-but-a-knockout friend (Leelee Sobieski) strips down to a leotard for no reason, and her brother’s (David Arquette) own self-actualization turns predatory. And the movie just keeps digging deeper and deeper.
Never Been Kissed never evinces any awareness that its problematic premise is anything more than a wacky misunderstanding. I’m not sure if there was any way for this story to work without being creepy. Or, uh, unlawful.
Let’s try some offhand script doctoring: First, cut the 16-year-old gymnast entirely; that subplot is unsalvageable. Second, perhaps Josie could discover that she misjudged her teacher’s attention, and he is in fact focused on helping her blossom. For example, he could invite her to her office, with she and the audience anticipating a hot assignation, but he instead produces a letter of recommendation for her college applications. This way, it’s cute, they still like and respect each other, and can hook up later, when all is revealed.
Or at the very least, during the editing stage, it could have been made more clear that when Josie confesses, her teacher’s disappointment is specifically over finding out that the newspaper was trying to entrap him. I can’t believe it didn’t occur to anybody in the editing room that the scene played like he was disgusted to find out that Josie was in fact an adult.
Orrrrrr… maybe just don’t attempt this premise at all. I can’t believe Disney+ is trimming swearwords from some of its PG-13 movies, but Never Been Kissed‘s basic plot doesn’t concern them?