Class Rank


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Class Rank
"Stoltz's restraint and the trust he places in his young stars generally pays off."

It's difficult to make a film about high school politics that can stand up to the celebrated Tracy Flick flick, Election. Class Rank also has elements of comedy and casts a sidelong eye at the conventions of the high school movie, but it sets a very different tone from the outset. Although we follow Veronica (Olivia Holt), the second most accomplished student in the school, there's no great display of talent or social advantage here, because our heroine's academic prowess does not betoken any ability whatsoever when it comes to interacting with other people.

That she's the second most accomplished student matters. Her school - like 45% of US schools, apparently - uses a class rank system, so this painfully imperfect status is something she can't get away from. It could stop her getting into Yale and interrupt the career path she's set her heart on. This isn't the sort of film where killing off the competition is entertained as an option, so Veronica can see only one solution: get the class rank system abolished altogether. With the school board unwilling to do this, she needs to change its membership. Standing as a candidate herself would also disrupt her plans, so she finds an awkward boy, Bernard (Skyler Gisondo), whom she can persuade to run in her stead.

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Bernard (or 'Bernie', as he is soon rebranded) is a shy youth but nevertheless fairly content doing his own thing. Though he makes a number of concessions to Veronica, he likes the clothes she ridicules and he genuinely doesn't care about impressing the in crowd. His ambitions are focused on learning Chinese so he can be with his long distance Chinese girlfriend. Meanwhile, relatives and school personnel persistently congratulate him on keeping company with Veronica, prompting the hasty explanation that she's his campaign manager.

Both young people are so wrapped up in themselves that they can't see the bigger picture, either in terms of what's happening in the school or in terms of what's happening between them. Eric Stoltz, who honed his directorial skills in television, keeps them at the centre of things whenever they're on camera, allowing us only brief sight of the other students' reactions that put what they're doing into perspective. Because the film was made on a tight budget, the extras are mostly real school students, but no difficulties arise as a result and unlike many onscreen high schools this place feels real.

Though the ending feels rushed and doesn't fully convince, Stoltz's restraint and the trust he places in his young stars generally pays off. This type of nuanced drama is rare in the genre and will please young audiences looking for something a bit different. Class Rank balances its gentle comedy with a thoughtfulness and sympathy for its characters that make it very likeable even if it's not top of its class.

Reviewed on: 06 May 2018
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Two high school outsiders join forces in an attempt to take power on the local school board.

Director: Eric Stoltz

Writer: Benjamin August

Starring: Skyler Gisondo, Olivia Holt, Kristin Chenoweth, Bruce Dern, Kathleen Chalfant

Year: 2017

Runtime: 108 minutes

Country: US


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