Combustible Celluloid
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With: Skyler Gisondo, Olivia Holt, Kristin Chenoweth, Bruce Dern, Kathleen Chalfant, Lee Broda, Jett Bankins, Eric Stoltz, Ian Patrick
Written by: Benjamin August
Directed by: Eric Stoltz
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 108
Date: 05/11/2018

Class Rank (2018)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Board Youth

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

While it could have been just another generic coming-of-age, high school rom-com, this one is surprisingly sweet, honest, and lovable; it feels as fresh and bracing as a brand-new John Hughes movie. It's perhaps fitting, then, that it's directed by Eric Stoltz, an honorary Brat Packer who starred in the Hughes-written Some Kind of Wonderful.

In Class Rank, accomplished high school student Veronica Krauss (Olivia Holt) dreams of getting into Yale, but her dreams are shattered when she discovers that she is ranked only #2 in her class. She attends a school board meeting and tries to get the ranking system abolished, to no avail. However, at the meeting she spots a fellow student Bernard Flannigan (Skyler Gisondo) and comes up with a plan.

She will convince Bernard to run for the board, and his vote will change things for the better. Fastidious and a little strange, and raised by his scholarly grandfather (Bruce Dern), Bernard is the opposite of the outgoing Veronica, but he agrees to run. They embark upon a campaign together, and slowly, against the odds, begin to actually like one another. But how will this newfound relationship affect Veronica's plans?

Stoltz and screenwriter Benjamin August (Remember) understand that teens are people too and even high-achievers have their doubts and weaknesses. Thanks to tender, nuanced performances, both Veronica and Bernard rise above potential stereotypes and become human.

At the same time, Class Rank is kind to the adult characters, who, in typical teen movies, are so often made to be ridiculous. Dern, who can so easily be either cranky or flat-out evil, becomes a slightly edgy, shuffleboard-obsessed, caring grandpa to Bernard, and it's easy to see why the latter loves him so. Kristin Chenoweth is very funny as Veronica's mother, who works on the Law and Order: Special Victims Unit TV show and uses tidbits from its storylines in her parenting.

Also delightful is Kathleen Chalfant as the senior-aged publisher of the local newspaper. The characters are certainly quirky, but Stoltz gives everything a low-key, relaxed quality, and nothing seems too desperate or obvious; it's all smoothed out into a nice, clean flow. It's a kind movie, with room in its heart for all types.

Cinedigm released the film on DVD (no Blu-ray), with a commentary track by Stoltz and writer August (which, weirdly, sounds like it was recorded in someone's garage), nine deleted scenes (there's no "play all" option), and a trailer. There are also optional English subtitles. Sound and image transfer are fine. It's a pretty bare-bones package for such a little treasure, but hopefully it will draw in some new fans.

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