HOnor Society, a dark comedy about prestige-obsessed high schoolers, opens with familiar faces of pop feminism: Beyoncé and Billie Eilish. These are the faces Honor Rose (Angourie Rice from the Spider-man movies) sees on her wall as she goes through her long morning routine before senior year – white strips for her teeth, jade roller on her face, straightener on her bob blond. The editing is reminiscent of the opening scene of Booksmart, another sharp film about overachieving teenage girls. But while the ambitious Booksmart protagonists sincerely adored RBG, Michelle Obama and Gloria Steinem with a contempt for the less motivated (“fuck those losers, fuck them in their stupid fucking faces,” is the mantra Beanie Feldstein’s Molly listens to. before school), Honor’s posters are proudly utilitarian, her attitude pure disdain. “It’s all bullshit,” she tells us, “but they’re the gods of my people, so I have to worship them.”
It’s a surprising and deliciously delirious opening that underlines this deceptively cutting, darker than expected film about the obsessed with prestige, directed by Oran Zegman in his first feature. A senior in a small town in what could be anywhere in the Northeast, Honor has only one goal for high school — to get out of it — and only one idol: Harvard, whose graduation rate she knows. acceptance (4.6%) at your fingertips. . Honor looks like the all-around good girl loved by admissions committees — she founded the karate club, edits the student newspaper, leads the volleyball team, runs a food bank for the less fortunate, all while maintaining her grades high.
She also breaks the fourth wall, a la Fleabag, an overused trope from the ending that thankfully works here as we learn how everything from every kiss blown to her core friends Emma (Avery Konrad) and Talia (Kelcey Mawema) or a polite smile , is a chameleon act in the service of his singular obsession with Harvard. What could be a tiresome focus on neuroticism becomes, in David A Goodman’s beard-filled screenplay and Zegman’s shrewd direction, a refreshing portrayal of a real, if overrepresented, American phenomenon — a ruthless competition to enter the elite universities – in comic isolation. It’s nice that a female protagonist recognizes that her only motivation is to make others envious, to see the ideal of being well-rounded made so mean.
There’s an element of Emerald Fennell’s promising young woman here, as Honor’s every move, like Carey Mulligan’s Cassie, derives from a demented, singular obsession (a satirical fixation with prestige as a panacea, instead of revenge #MeToo). Both movies cast Christopher Mintz-Plasse as a handsome and ultimately sinister guy — here, as Honor’s wary guidance counselor who chooses one student a year to recommend to his best friend, a Harvard alum.
When Honor learns she’s one of four students vying for her recommendation, she furiously plans to ruin her rivals’ grades with a ridiculously convoluted plan, the details of which she relishes for us, her audience. This plan, which is mostly fun to watch Rice unfold, involves joining a drama club, directing the Tudor-themed play of friendless weirdo Kennedy (Amy Keum), casting Travis (Armani Jackson ) and to seduce Michael Dipnicky (Gaten Matarazzo of Stranger Things). , a bullied nerd and his chemistry lab partner.
The tense and excellent first half of the film sees Honor judging everything around her with chilling contempt. Her English teacher, an early ’70s Smith graduate who marched for the ERA, is a cautionary tale of pitiful hope. The school lacrosse coach, a young and avid former Syracuse scholarship player, is now pitifully middle-aged and (gag) cares about his little job. Michael is an inexperienced boy “fantasizing about a pornstar showing up and teaching him where to put it.” Maybe she should feel bad about Kennedy’s ostracism, but “as I always say,” she notes as she slams her locker, “you can’t spell sympathetic without pathetic.”
The more wobbly second half, in which Honor unwillingly begins to resent the unassuming Michael and her many spinning plates falling in unexpected directions, struggles to balance the cut glass of the first with Honor’s budding personality. Rice, who established herself as Kate Winslet’s daughter in Mare of Easttown, looks like Amy Adams’ wide-eyed vulnerability pierced by Reese Witherspoon’s relentless, overachieving election-era perkiness; she is convincing in every scene.
But the final third of the film forces Honor to go from borderline sociopath to seemingly sincere — a huge stretch for any character, even one as interesting as Honor. A dark twist in the final act, albeit surprising, rocks the boat, and Honor Society struggles to stick the landing and thread the needle between sour and sweet, campy and heartfelt.
The final chorus of conclusions ends a bit too neatly, though that doesn’t invalidate the pleasantly unhinged ride before. It’s perhaps predictable that Honor Society would ultimately conclude on the note that, hey, Prestige isn’t all it’s made out to be, but the twisty, crunchy journey to that truth is a welcome surprise.