Honor Society, which premieres on Paramount Plus on July 29, is a savvy rites-of-passage piece which mainlines top tier John Hughes during his prolific 80s period.
With a disarming delivery of straight-to-camera dialogue, Angourie Rice attempts to steal this film as Honor, a prim and proper high school senior with Ferris Bueller-levels of sass, who runs rings around all comers in her attempts to get a Harvard scholarship.
Written by David A. Goodman, longtime producer on Family Guy and The Orville, this feels as much like a launch pad for Gaten Matarazzo (Stranger Things) as headliner Rice. Since he burst onto the scene as Dustin in Stranger Things, this actor has slowly proved himself to be extremely versatile within the role, not to mention hugely popular amongst fans. Honor Society will only compound that popularity, as he channels his everyteen persona through Michael while adding a degree of pathos to this high school dramedy.
Taking inspiration from Election, a genre-defining indie film featuring Reese Witherspoon and Matthew Broderick, director Oran Zegman ensures that Honor Society embraces that same self-awareness. Meanwhile, writer David A. Goodman also tips a hat to Alicia Silverstone classic Clueless and Lindsay Lohan vehicle Mean Girls along the way, cherry-picking certain elements to weave a feelgood factor into the fabric of this film. Elsewhere, Christopher Mintz-Plasse (Promising Young Woman) is also in scene-stealing form as Mr. Calvin, a guidance counselor, lecherous Lothario, and destroyer of acoustic power ballads.
Similar to Jeffrey Jones in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Mintz-Plasse walks a very thin line between comedic stooge and middle-aged man child throughout, coming unglued at every juncture as he attempts to keep himself relevant, whilst openly abusing his power over students.
Strangely enough, this contemporary twist on the out-of-touch adult educator gives this film some much-needed weight; its entire premise relies on Mintz-Plasse’s obstacle of a character being believable to audiences, rather than drifting into caricature or, worse still, being a MeToo stereotype. A trick which he pulls off without alienating the audience, or changing the power dynamic between himself and Rice.
Amongst the other potential obstacles to Honor’s Harvard hall pass is Kennedy Smith (Amy Keum), who draws inspiration from Ally Sheedy’s Allison in The Breakfast Club; a reclusive straight-A student who interacts with no one and further alienates herself through individually-crafted clothing choices.
Again, this is pure John Hughes, but feels more like a love letter to the era than anything else. Honor first manipulates Kennedy for her own ends, before slowly experiencing epiphanies as these people begin to grow in confidence under her guidance. This dynamic is most noticeable in her influence over Travis (Armani Jackson), a characteristically clichéd to the max high school heartthrob and football star who secretly enjoys theater and the company of men, yet feels compelled to remain in denial until he encounters Honor.
Similar plot points have happened in a multitude of coming-of-age teen dramas across the decades, but Honor Society gets away with it because there is genuine love for the genre here. Not only in the way it recognizes tropes, which are cleverly deployed, but with a romantically odd couple at its core which really works.
This film may never have intended to reinvent the wheel, as it flagrantly embraces well-established narratives in a copybook fashion. However, there is such freshness and vibrancy to Honor Society that it is almost impossible not to like it. Especially with the involvement of Matarazzo, who not only continues to prove he has a career beyond Stranger Things, but may in fact outshine Millie Bobby Brown when it comes to longevity.
Opposite Rice herself in solid form, Matarazzo stands toe-to-toe with an actress who has consistently proved herself in more serious fare. From The Nice Guys alongside Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe, to a remake of The Beguiled, she has turned in some good performances. In Honor Society she adds yet another string to her bow, giving John Cusack’s High Fidelity turn a run for its money in terms of naturalism.
Ultimately, Honor Society feels like a small-scale charm offensive featuring some genuinely engaging characters. If the worst thing audiences can say is that it feels derivative and shows too much love for John Hughes, then so be it. In the end, there may be few surprises on offer in this teen dramedy, but it is still guaranteed to make you smile.
'Honor Society' fuses together everything great about John Hughes, then updates it for contemporary audiences.
Review: 'The Honor Society' is pure John Hughes for a new generation