18 May 2018 | AustinSober
High School Romance Made Quirky and Lovable Again
"Class Rank" passionately tells the simple tale of a teen romance with a quirky style that harkens back to the heartfelt high school tales of old rather than resorting to the profane and edgy take often expressed in modern teen dramas.
The film follows two high school students in the small town of Livingston, New Jersey who are both seeking changes in their school system for their own personal benefits. Bernard (Skyler Gisondo) has a unique, progressive view on life and wishes to change all the ways of his small town. On the other end, Veronica (Olivia Holt) wishes to change their school's class ranking requirements so she can be moved up from her second place ranking to number one to better her chances of getting into Yale. Veronica pursues and convinces Bernard to try and run for a seat in the town's school board (as there are no age restrictions) to challenge the system. However, she just can't help but begin taking a more-than-friendly interest in Bernard, no matter how dorky he is.
The narrative of "Class Rank" is not fully original (Every film buff will likely reference "Election" but the comparison is honestly minimal), but it does succeed in telling the story in a manner that is more likable than the average film in the genre. The vision of the film is somewhere between that of Wes Anderson mixed with the John Hughes vibe of the 80s. Be that the PG-13 kind of course. There is indeed something old-fashioned about the film. It is set in modern times for sure, but it never draws a lot of attention to that. It never throws the latest trend in your face and characters rarely even use the almighty cell phone. Bernard relies on the mail service as the key means to send off and receive audiotapes to his long-distance girlfriend in China. Characters ride bicycles, they rely on homemade posters to campaign rather than social media, and there always seems to be somebody making out in the background of any public school scene. (This can't be normal today right? Like EVERY scene!)
What makes the film work above all else is the film's characters. They are all quite likable and full of personality (There is one mark against this point though I will speak on in a moment). The two young leads have great chemistry with each other that results in some "adorkable" moments. The best shout out goes to Skyler Gisondo. He is like a little Spock in many ways, complete dialogue that is written in a very proper fashion (When offered a car ride: "I appreciate the offer, however, I must decline as I have vowed to keep my carbon footprint to a minimum."). In the hands of the wrong actor, this sort of character could lean towards the position of being annoying as opposed to the adorkable quality the filmmakers shot for and luckily hit squarely in the bullseye. Bruce Dern is also a hoot as the boy's grandfather who also has his own romantic subplot that is acceptable, if mostly pointless to the overall story.
As I previously mentioned, there is one character motivation that did border on the unlikable side. Veronica's introduction is not the best. The character's entire motivation to move up from number 2 to number 1 is well...rather selfish. Admittedly, that is the point. The execution just sort of makes you feel like she is way too full of herself. It doesn't help that it is unlikely that being number 2 would really hurt her chances of getting into Yale or that the audience doesn't get a clear breakdown of class ranking. So, it sort of comes across that she just wants to be better than everyone because she feels she has to live up to that standard. It's not that this isn't a BELIEVABLE character as there are plenty of students that obsess with being the best of the best for no other reason than just because. Thankfully, the character quickly improves after the introduction and she grows to see more in life.
The only other flaw I see is that ultimately the actual campaign/election that Bernard and Veronica are fighting for doesn't really have any tension or steaks. The opposition never proves to be much of a threat and they don't even really seem to be doing anything oppressive to the school system beyond just not giving the two leads what they want. I could see this as a small satire on politics itself. Everyone is just jockeying for what they personally want all the while appealing to other people's interests merely to get their vote. Ultimately, the election just serves as the catalyst that draws two people together and allows them to "find" each other along the way. If you are expecting this to really serve as an outcry to teenage rebellion you will be left a little empty.
If you are looking for a sincere, little film that brings the old-school heart back to the teen drama, then you will find "Class Rank" quite satisfying. It's not deep or pretentious. It just tells a simple story in a lovable manner.
Oh yeah, this was shot near my hometown in Alexandria, Louisiana back in 2015 so I probably should speak on that aspect shouldn't I? Well, Alexandria is used well enough as a backdrop and it was fun to point out locations that I and many others may see as mundane being made interesting just because it is now on film. It also leads to some questions of location consistency. The film's opening is a montage of Bernard riding around town on his bike, but the order of locations seems...out of order. First, he is in what seems like the run-down areas west of downtown, then he is in downtown, back in the run-down spot, then on the Pineville side of the river with the big American flag, and then he is suddenly back in downtown. WHERE IS HE GOING?? Perhaps he is visiting different places throughout the day. Of course, I guess the geography doesn't really matter much as the film's setting is supposed to be New Jersey and not Louisiana. Thankfully, the extras in the film don't scream SOUUUUTTTTHHHH!...so everyone else will be none the wiser. All in all, the town is used well enough, but the location is merely a backdrop. Don't' expect an epic wide shot.