Honor Society (2022)

(This is very much a deliberately vague, no spoilers review)

Watching Honor Society was a funny-sad-oh-what-OH NO-awh rollercoaster that left me feeling good in the way that alleged feel-good movies rarely do.

This is very nearly a perfect film. I think it’s Mean Girls-level in terms of the whole ensemble being perfectly cast and not one actor phoning it in. The tiniest scenes here are given the same directorial weight as the set pieces. It’s a joy to watch the cast all meshing with each other, like the silliest clockwork you’ve ever seen. Again, no spoilers but there are journeys here that certain characters take which would have seemed ridiculous in lesser hands. Props to the writer, director and actors playing those roles.

The film starts with the normal bed-in for a US high school film but gets going more speedily because Honor (Angourie Rice) breaks the fourth wall throughout. I’d hate that normally because this is film, it’s meant to be show, not tell. Here, however, the expositional dollops are served so skillfully and are so piquant that it all flies along splendidly.

We have the plot: Honor is determined to get a coveted scholarship to Harvard but discovers that to do so, she has to sabotage three competitors. All four of them are vying for the recommendation from school counsellor and dodgy perv, Mr. Calvin (Christopher Mintz-Plasse).

This is great, we have shenanigans. We have increasingly unlikely and therefore increasingly entertaining plots to destabilise Kennedy (Amy Keum), Travis (Armani Jackson) and Michael (Gaten Matarazzo) that Honor weaves from the centre of her web of evil.

If the film had just given us this, it would have been enough. But there’s a turn that takes this film from a 7/10 to a 9/10 for me. The turn itself isn’t that shocking or even that unexpected (one of the earlier scenes really does telegraph it in a little too heavily) but it is, nevertheless quite a turn. It would have been so easy to fumble the emotional switch-up.

What carries it all are the frankly outrageously accomplished performances from Rice and Matarazzo. As I’m typing this, they are 21 and 20 respectively. Which is wild. It is staggering. In the scenes leading up to the twist and after, they display an intensity, a core of total investment that absolutely sells the twist, the plots, the whole damn film. Both of these kids are gonna win Oscars in the future, trust me. They are scarily good.

Without that level of acting, the message of the film might seem trite and homely. But because of the commitment they bring, it totally works in the way that the end scene of It’s A Wonderful Life totally works and if you don’t cry at that, you’re a psychopath. Or a Tory.

I put this film on expecting an enjoyable piece of fluff, just something to watch while I was scoffing tea. But it made me stop eating and pay attention. It delivered way above my expectations. I haven’t even taken my plate back through because I had to write all this while the film was all fresh in my head.

This film is beautifully sentimental in an age of scorn, of hateful cynicism. It’s that text from a friend when you’re feeling down that makes you smile and feel loved. It’s the glowing, overheated blush of realising you mean something to someone.

It’s a reminder that whatever this nightmarishly reified capitalist society tries to sell us, there are some things that are transcendently rewarding, some things that are priceless.