Angourie Rice graduates with honors in a comedy that evolves from edgy to winning.
This review of the Paramount+ film Honor Society does not contain spoilers.
Paramount+ film Honor Society centers around a young and ambitious student, Honor Rose (Angourie Rice). She dreams of getting out of her boring town and going to Harvard. Honor is not naive. She knows her grades are no guarantee of getting in. Only less than five percent of applicants achieve that. So, she has been playing the long con since her freshman year. That is when she found out her guidance counselor, Mr. Calvin — played by Christopher Mintz-Plasse, who has carved a niche for himself by playing perverted scumbags of late — has a best friend who is a graduate.
Honor is a Kathryn Merteuil type. So, when she hears her counselor has his top four choices to recommend to his buddy, one of them being her, she gets ready for battle. A master of deduction, she surmises that the other three must be in her honor society. One is Kennedy, a dark, artistic student with no friends who is obsessed with grades because of her parents. Another is Travis, a star lacrosse player who hides the secret that he is gay. And the last is Michael (Stranger Thing’s Gaten Matarazzo), a nerd who loves Doctor Who and lives with his foster mother after his parents died years prior. Yes, Honor wants to take these poor saps down in a heartless fashion.
Director Oran Zegman’s (Marriage Material) script begins to excel as it transitions from its first to the second act. There, Rice’s Honor evolves from cold, cynical, and manipulative to warm and tender, allowing her guard to come down. The script by veteran television writer David A. Goodman (Futurama, Golden Girls) enables the first act to be very funny, even edgy, and you slowly see Honor discover there are things more important than her need to succeed if others fail. With each manipulation, her target’s lives begin to improve. The film turns warm-hearted as we see Honor’s heart unexpectedly begin to defrost. There are some nice lines and comedic observations about modern teenage life. For instance, when Mintz-Plass’s Mr. Calvin hands out flyers, a member of Honor’s squad says, “A flyer is like a tweet that ruins the environment. I’m gonna tweet that!”
And that credit goes to the lead, Angourie Rice, as she graduates in a comedy that moves seamlessly from edgy to winning. The young actor we have seen in such good films and television shows as Mare of Easttown and The Nice Guys has no trouble toggling between cold and luminous adolescence. She is a joy to watch. Even watching Matarazzo break away slightly from his nerd filmography reputation and show some rare charm and moxie is refreshing, if not somewhat unbelievable, as they develop a romantic relationship.
That being said, Honor Society is a nice little coming-of-age comedy. (Trust me, this is not the YA movie some film critics claim it turns into). There are a few issues, mainly in the third act. If Honor had the dark edge the film claims, this film could have been a short because she could blackmail Mr. Calvin in the first five minutes with his invites and sexual innuendo. The film’s main plot point is evident since it has no other place to go.
Those are minor quibbles. We should not pressure films to be completely groundbreaking because it is enough to be done well and entertaining simultaneously— especially the ones like this that find their heart in the right place. The real payoff is watching Rice’s Honor move from cynical to a young woman who is now credulous. I am sure Brendan Fraser would say she has now graduated with honors.
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