So Geek Charming is one of those terribad teen movies I just cannot resist: shamelessly derivative, shamelessly trite, and shamelessly cheesy. I heard it was based off a novel, which I have never read and basically know nothing about. I do know, however, that the movie changed the ending, and people seem to be glad of it, since the original ending sucked. Like HP epilogue style.
Geek Charming is listed as a comedy, but one of the funniest bits is actually its imdb summary:
Dylan Shoenfield is the pink princess of the upscale Los Angeles Woodlands Academy. She has the coolest boyfriend, the most popular friends, and a brand-new it bag that everyone covets. But when she accidentally tosses her Serge Sanchez bag into a fountain, this princess comes face-to-face with her own personal frog, self-professed film geek Josh Rosen. In return for rescuing Dylan’s bag, Josh convinces Dylan to let him film her for his documentary on high school popularity. Reluctantly, Dylan lets F-list Josh into her A-list world, and is shocked to realize that sometimes nerds can be pretty cool.
Really, how can I top that? Pure gold right there.
So I’ve seen this movie described as a retread of Can’t Buy Me Love (I guess one retread wasn’t enough) which makes sense given the similarities between their plots. But that film is hardly the only source this flick
rips off pays homage to. Throw in some Mean Girls and Glee (minus the singing and dancing, which is really the only reason I can find to watch Glee. Well, and Jane Lynch. Jane Lynch is osm). Add a sprinkle of Dawson’s Creek, and we’re in business!
It becomes clear right away that Geek Charming seeks to be one of those intentionally over-the-top teen comedies that parody not only the genre but also the subject matter. Mean Girls did this brilliantly by infusing its stereotypes with wit and irony, creating characters that are hilarious as well as accessible to a teenage audience. Sure, we laugh at Regina’s all-carb diet and Gretchen’s hair being full of secrets, but in the back of our minds, we’re thinking, “Hey, I actually know girls like that!” This is also true of the film’s secondary characters, including art geek Janis and “almost too gay to function” Damien. Even the protagonist, Cady, is an exaggeration, a naïve and innocent “regulation hottie” who spent her formative years in Africa and knows nothing of “girl world.” Much of the humor in the movie comes from seeing the high school jungle through fish-out-of-water Cady’s eyes, putting it into hilarious perspective.
Conversely, 1995’s Clueless operates from the point of view of queen bee Cher, rather than new girl Tai (although much humor is derived from Tai’s ignorance of the ways of her new Beverly Hills surroundings). This is also an effective device for humor and irony, as seen in the contrast between Cher’s perceptions and the images on the screen. The banality with which she presents such absurd situations as a computerized outfit-picking system and a chat with her BFF on their cell phones while walking down the same hallway (hey, it was the 90s; cell phones were those newfangled contraptions that only the very rich and drug dealers used) drives a lot of the film’s humor as well as providing subtle and witty social commentary.
Geek Charming, however, eschews such devices in favor of a Glee-esque M.O. in which it wildly exaggerates high school stereotypes, then proceeds to play them completely straight while patting itself on the back for its clever parody, except that it’s neither clever nor parody. Less than five minutes into the film, we get a sense of just what we’re in for. Our heroine, Dylan, pitches a screaming fit (literally) in a scene of such slapstick inanity that our suspension of disbelief gets pretty much obliterated about two perfume spritzes in. Basically, the perfume gets in the eyes of the geek, Josh, who proceeds to spill pasta all over Dylan’s designer outfit. We are treated to this lovely sequence not once, but twice–from the perspective of each character. I know I really wanted to see it twice. Dylan goes into hysterics, throwing pasta onto her two friends and blaming Josh for it, before she finally screams, “I can’t believe popular people like me are forced to the same air as nerd herders like you!” All the while, she seems on the verge of tears with her face screwed up in a grimace that makes me wonder if she was about to bust an artery.
See, this is exactly what I’m talking about. Is it really necessary to waste our time with this extreme, over-the-top, overly long scene to convey the same sentiment that Cher Horowitz so effortlessly accomplishes with a wrinkle of the nose and terse, yet eloquent utterence: “As if!”
Yeah, what-ever, movie.
This movie also employs the time-honored device of the unreliable narrator. In Clueless and Mean Girls, this is accomplished through voiceovers by the films’ protagonists. Geek Charming takes more of a reality show approach by interspersing the action with brief segments where the characters speak directly into the camera, giving their commentary on these events. This makes sense given this flick’s whole movie-within-a-movie shtick, so I’m giving it a pass, although it doesn’t make as much sense for Dylan to do it as well as Josh. Like Josh is such a Dawson Leery-esque film geek it’s believable that he films his entire life. Although I guess Dylan is certainly narcissistic enough to film her entire life, and her narcissism does provide her main motivation for letting Josh film her.
Finally, in case Geek Charming’s attempts to emulate the style and content of the classics weren’t enough, let’s have some blatantly obvious visuals:
Clearly, bitchy teen girls only come in threes.
I know, right?
Unfortunately, we are forced to suffer through Geek Charming’s assumption that slapstick + inane + over-the-top = fun-nee for several more agonizing but sadly pivotal to the plot scenes. The first takes place in the mall, where Dylan drops her super-expensive “It” bag (which looks like it cost about $25 at Forever 21… hey, it takes a lot of money to look this cheap!) into the fountain and Josh (who just so happens to be around at the time), jumps into the fountain to get it. The sequence drags on and on and on and is just as tedious to watch as it is to recap. When Josh finally manages to recover the bag, he seizes the opportunity to make Dylan on offer she can’t refuse—he’ll film her as the subject of his documentary for an upcoming film festival. Dylan is an easy sell—who wouldn’t want to watch her acting like a brat all day long? I know I’m loving it so far. Dylan also feels the film will cinch her victory as Blossom Queen.
Later on, we see a more vulnerable side to Dylan when she comes home to an empty mansion, does homework in sweats and glasses, and gazes at a picture taken by her late mother of her and her then-BFF, Amy, at a spelling bee. Talk about a dark past. Since then, of course, Dylan and Amy drifted apart and Amy is now a hipster rocker girl and Josh’s crush. We then see Dylan crying over a frilly, pepto-bismol-colored 80s prom dress that we eventually find out belonged to her mother when she won Blossom Queen.
This brief and touching scene (clichéd and rather cheap in its attempts to tug at the heartstrings, but touching nonetheless) provides but a brief respite before Dylan moves back into insufferable-twat mode again. Josh films her shopping in the mall and saying stupid inane things. Winning Blossom Queen is her ultimate motivation not only for the moment, but for her entire life. She actually says, in all seriousness, that if she doesn’t win her life is officially “O-V-E-R over.” She has no other plans for her future beyond that. Josh is in disbelief, and so am I, frankly. She also discusses how her two lackeys vie with each other to be her bestest BFF because they know their popularity comes from her. This recalls a surprisingly pithy speech by Cordelia Chase in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode “Out of Mind, Out of Sight”:
Cordelia: Hey! You think I’m never lonely because I’m so cute and popular? I can be surrounded by people and be completely alone. It’s not like any of them really know me. I don’t even know if they like me half the time. People just want to be in a popular zone. Sometimes when I talk, everyone’s so busy agreeing with me, they don’t hear a word I say.
Buffy: Well, if you feel so alone, then why do you work so hard at being popular?
Cordelia: Well, it beats being alone all by yourself.
Cordelia is, essentially, the character Dylan seeks to be but fails to on pretty much every level, at least in the first half of the film. See, even when Cordy is at her most vapid, we still see glimpses of vulnerability and self-awareness that make her feel like a real person and hint at ways her character could expand and grow. This sort of layering is shown with great effectiveness in the above exchange, among others. So when Cordy’s character eventually does evolve–she becomes, arguably, one of the most heroic and sacrificial figures in the Buffy spinoff Angel–the groundwork has already been laid, and it’s really not that far of a stretch.
But since we’re talking about Geek Charming here, what you see is what you get. I’ma quote Cordelia again and say, “What do you get when you scratch the surface? More surface.” And no scene demonstrates just how much surface this movie has than the beach volleyball scene.
Josh and his two geek friends tag along with Dylan and her lackeys to watch Dylan’s bf, Asher, play volleyball. Dylan acts shallow and vain and ridiculous, her friends act shallow and vain and ridiculous, Josh’s buddies act geeky and stupid and ridiculous. I find myself longing for Dawson Leery’s rambling sanctimony about his trials as an artiste or the Nerd Trio on Buffy quibbling over Boba Fett action figures. Afterward, Dylan’s sports car gets towed and she is thrown into a crisis over her inability, for once, to talk her way out of something. This incident recalls another vehicularly-inspired crisis on Clueless, in which Cher fails her driving test and can’t talk her way out of that, either. This scene in Clueless kick-starts a series of events that lead to Cher’s epiphany and ultimately, character growth. No such luck for Dylan. She’s as bratty as ever, even when Josh comes to her rescue. Josh gives her a ride in his hoopty, the hoopty breaks down, they have to walk to a gas station, then she twists her ankle in her platforms and makes Josh carry her (I really wish I were making this up, but not even I could come up with this shit). Josh gets as weary of this bullshit as I am and he and Dylan have an argument. He fires her from the movie and she tries to fire him. I can’t even keep track of all the firing up in here. The end result is, of course, that the movie project is kaput.
But since the movie isn’t at halfway point quite yet (oh God), I know we, as an audience, will not get that lucky. Dylan has misgivings over firing Josh/quitting/flouncing/whatever when her opponent for Blossom Queen gains a temporary baked goods-induced popularity boost. Hey, gotta give this chick credit. She knows the way to a teenager’s vote—free food.
Speaking of tasty things, can I have that Asian football player? Screw cupcakes; I’ll take some frosting with him.
Josh also regrets firing Dylan, since he is now out an entry in the film festival and it’s too late to start another project. He resigns himself to his fate of being yet another whiny hipster asshole like Dawson, until Dylan schemes to get back into his good graces. She dons her hipster garb (which essentially means shapeless denim overalls and a leather jacket—kickin’ it ’97 style) and shows up at a scifi movie where she just so happens to run into Josh and his film-geek friends. After the movie, they all gather at an appropriately grungy and pretentious coffee house and I wonder if permanently residing in the late ‘90s is some hipster requirement or something, at least in this film. Did they all get into a TARDIS and travel to some less-funny less-vampiric version of Buffy? Mixing them nerdy references, go me! I could be part of Josh’s film-geek friends except I’d probably smack them all in the face within about five minutes. Anyway, Dylan proceeds to show of her sekrit smarts in a discussion of movie physics and Josh is impressed. Dylan admits she has to hide her braininess from her popular friends, because Lord knows popular people are never, ever smart or good students. Ever.
This scene actually signals a turning point, not only for the characters but also for the film itself. After this, it becomes downright watchable. No, I didn’t say good. I said watchable. Dylan acts like a normal human being and while Josh’s film-geek friends are fucking irritating, they thankfully take a backseat to the film’s two leads. And now that Dylan and Josh are finally over the whole Moonlighting-bickering phase we don’t have to sit through those painfully contrived scenes anymore. From here on out the chemistry between the two leads finally gets a chance to shine. I am not sure this makes up for the godawful crap we had to sit through before, but it sure makes the rest of my viewing and recapping experience easier.
We now get another teen-movie staple: the makeover! God, I love makeovers. The makeover episode in America’s Next Top Model is always my favorite. Someone’s always crying over chopping her hair, or complaining about a terrible weave. I can sympathize with that, though, because it is pretty apparent Top Model’s budget is not spent on weaves. Sadly there is no weave in this makeover scene, but that’s OK, because it’s still amazing. Dylan gets Josh to submit to a makeover, transforming his style from unwashed hipster to member of U-KISS.
Seriously, man, this new look is the ultimate in Disney uber-metro pretty boy aesthetic. And while I, personally, love me some metro pretty boys, generally speaking I don’t think most of the American public does. Let’s be real here. Maybe I’m just on the internet too much or I’m recalling my teenage years back in the ‘90s when grunge ruled and Jordan Catalano was the ultimate heartthrob, but I feel that girls would gravitate more toward the soulful-starving-artist look Josh sported before than the metro-tacular Asian-boyband-but-not-Asian look he’s sporting now. I know that look went over really well the last time someone tried it.
But what the hell do I know? What’s important is the movie, and Josh’s new look certainly makes the girls tingle tingle.
Those girls include Amy. I can honestly say this baffles me, since one would think Amy would prefer Josh in his hipster days over Josh in his boy band days. Wouldn’t she see the new Josh as a totally mainstream sellout? I don’t know. Maybe she’s a closet K-pop fan. Whatever the reason, she’s all up in his business, and this makes Dylan jealous.
The film continues on its predictable and campy trajectory. Josh keeps filming his documentary, and he and Dylan get closer. But like all teen rom-com characters, they remain purposefully oblivious to the fact that they want to jump each other and keep doggedly forcing themselves back into the two-dimensional roles where they started. This is naturally impossible, as Josh’s social stock begins to rise and Dylan’s begins to plummet. Her jerko bf breaks up with her, her friends ditch her, and her social status hits rock-bottom when the unthinkable happens—she runs out of contact lenses and has to go to school in her glasses! I’m telling you guys, I might’ve shed a tear or two there. Although it might have been my contacts bothering me.
Josh, meanwhile, starts dating Amy, who gives him a chance despite the fact that he’s obviously in love with Dylan. Eventually, however, Amy demonstrates her status as the most perceptive and self-aware character in this circus when she breaks things off with Josh, informing him that she knows he’d rather be dating Dylan instead. Josh, of course, denies it, but Amy knows better.
Finally we get to the movie’s climax, which takes place at the film festival. The first half of the movie shows Dylan as the vapid and obnoxious little twirp we knew through the first painful half of this movie. Thanks, I needed the reminder. Dylan, of course, runs out of the theater in tears. Josh goes after her and she lights into him for ruining her life. Josh, demonstrating his cerebral prowess, neglects to tell her to get her scrawny ass back in the theater and watch the rest of the damn movie. That duty is left to Amy, who swings by Dylan’s house later on to check on her. She pep-talks Dylan, leaving her a copy of the movie to watch.
Like Mean Girls, the film’s denouement takes place at a formal school dance, because there’s nothing like drama and reconciliation when it’s done in formal clothing with cheesy teen pop playing in the background. I can’t help but wish the DJ’d played some U-KISS in honor of Josh. Dylan shows up in her mother’s dress. Vintage! So adorable. I can’t even say that’s the ugliest effing dress I’ve ever seen, because I lived through the 80s, and I’ve seen uglier. Sadly. Dylan’s just lucky that we’re experiencing an 80s fashion revival now, because I can guarantee that in any other situation, not even the queen bee could kick it ’85 style without getting funny looks from her subjects. High school formals, especially in a small town, are all about conformity. Girls all try to wear dresses in the exact same styles, but they can’t be too much alike, because nothing is more mortifying than showing up at prom wearing the same dress as someone else. It’s a delicate balance.
Thanks to Josh’s movie Dylan is now more popular than ever. She wins Blossom Queen, and gives a heartfelt speech in which she calls her former friends/hangers-on out on their shit and declares that popularity isn’t about people knowing who you are, but about real friends who stand by you despite being a loser with no date who wears glasses. I would say this is a distinction between shitty stupid one-dimensional movie characters and actual humans, but let’s not quibble.
So Dylan and Josh make up and hook up, Amy finds a nice film-geek love interest, and everything is tied up in a neat bow, as Disney movies always are.
So what’s left to say about this movie? Not much, I guess. The thing that bothers me most about it is just the lack of effort put into it. Now, I haven’t read the book, so other than the ending, I have no idea how faithful the movie is to it. I don’t want to get into a discussion about the book versus the movie since, obviously, I haven’t read the book and I can’t be arsed to do so right now. But I also think a movie adaptation should stand up on its own right and that it’s completely fair to analyze it as such. From that perspective, I guess this movie was all right for what it was. It’s no better or worse than the kajillion other made-for-TV teen movies that have come out in recent years. But for me, that’s wherein the problem lies. It tried to be something more than a generic made-for-TV teen movie, and thus set itself up to be lambasted by recappers like me with nothing better to do than make fun of bad movies that take themselves too seriously. There isn’t much to say about movies that are intentionally funny.
If you’re like me and love campy Disney Channel shlock, you’ll probably love Geek Charming. Admittedly, it is a bit, well, charming, in its transparency. And on that note, this recap is officially O-V-E-R over.