Saturday, July 29, 2000

Boys and Girls / **1/2 (2000)

“Boys And Girls” has characters bursting with energy so intense and vibrant that you wish there was a more interesting plot to keep them occupied. At a point when movie personas are gauzy rip-offs of smarter characters from older pictures, their arrival onto the screen is met with warm embracement, especially from those who (like myself) are tired of the incessant idiotic depiction of America’s youth through the eyes of actors who aren’t even teenagers to begin with. Like “American Pie,” here is a radiant display of the sauciness, sophistication and intelligence of students, and how their skills can literally wreak havoc in the lives of those around them.

The only thing missing in this setup is a story with the direct equivalent of potency. Torn straight out of the pages of “When Harry Met Sally,” director Robert Iscove’s endeavor of teens in search of love and relationships is a bit too familiar for comfort, and not just in regards to its narrative path: repetitive and uninspired dialogue widens a rift between character and story, twists fly of the screen without much thought, and Iscove’s style—left over from his previous hit “She’s All That”— slows down the character interaction by pushing the players into various but bland romantic interludes.

A shame, too, since the bright interaction cuts loose from those strings. The movie stars Freddie Prinze Jr. As Ryan, a handsome and fetching college student who hides his looks behind the typical qualities of any “movie nerd” (you know, the glasses, the short haircut, etc.). Part of his on-screen charm is his apparent patience with the film’s requisite beauty, Jennifer (Claire Forlani), who spends years and years claiming to be one of his closest friends, only to induce a consistent love/hate relationship in which discussing past relationships seems to be the primary topic of focus. They are, as movies of this caliber require, destined to be together; their personalities draw so many similarities that they argue on screen like an old married couple. Ironically, it takes them 10 years of friendship before either of them discover realize they are in love.

The time in between these encounters is spent with more enticing and intelligent characters, anyway. Ryan’s close friend Hunter (his sexually frustrated roommate, so to speak) is played here by bright young star Jason Biggs, who was the direct source of comic relief in the likable teen comedy “American Pie.” His character here is not that far of a stretch than the previous, other than the fact that Hunter has the experience, attitude and style to attract women (the best of his gags is the fact that his hair changes color practically every 10 minutes in the picture). Ditto for Jennifer’s close friend, Amy (Amanda Detmer), who is baffled by Ryan and Jennifer’s bond and has a few solid scene-stealing moments. Rounding out the cast is famous Blair Witch victim Heather Donahue, who plays Megan, Ryan’s brief college girlfriend. Donahue’s screen presence anchors her career as a serious movie actress, with a persona so sweet and charming that we often wonder why she hasn’t been given more screen time than the others.

Familiarity is always a present issue in teen comedies (how many conflicts could afflict them, after all?), but “Boys And Girls” thinks that the structure of its premise needs to be modeled after more mature romance comedies, and deteriorates on those grounds. Its edges are coarse and like that of a vintage magazine; we grasp the concept and its direction, but its drive is suffocated by meaningless sex talk and uninteresting fantasies that, for one unexplainable reason or another, are softened enough for a solid PG-13 rating. Compared to the hilarious audacity of “American Pie.” and in some ways even the recent “Road Trip,” this is the kind of film that would more appropriately work in an era when taste restrictions were still required for movies.

“When Harry Met Sally” was hardly a great film, but its characters were portrayed with charm and the story navigated them successfully through the conflicts that arise with any friendship-turned-romance. “Boys And Girls” has those same wise personas, only with a plot that leads to several dead-ends. In the long hall, though, energetic characters are more important than the journey, so the film is marginally recommendable. Besides, it’s not often you find actors who actually look like teenagers in these films.

Written by DAVID KEYES

Comedy (US); 2000; Rated PG-13; 94 Minutes

Freddie Prinze Jr.: Ryan
Claire Forlani: Jennifer
Jason Biggs: Hunter
Amanda Detmer: Amy
Heather Donahue: Megan

Produced by Sue Baden-Powell, Jay Cohen, Lee Gottsegen, Kyle Ham, Jeremy Kramer, Jill Sobel Messick, Louise Rosner, Murray Schisgal, Bob Weinstein and Harvey Weinstein; Directed by Robert Iscove; Screenwritten by “The Drews” (Andrew Lowery and Andrew Miller)

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