Class Rank’s plot description has a bit of an Election ring to it, but tone-wise this appealing romantic comedy is nothing like that 1999 R-rated satirical dark comedy. And unlike most high school and coming of age films, Class Rank’s flawed characters are minus any real mean streaks.
The film revolves around the nerdy and earnest Bernard Flannigan (Skyler Gisondo, Santa Clarita Diet) and Veronica Krauss (Olivia Holt, the star of Freeform’s upcoming series Cloak & Dagger), a student body officer who’s obsessed with being number one and driven by the desire to become a Supreme Court Justice. When Veronica learns her overall rank in school is second, she immediately panics and attempts to sway those in charge to do away with rankings altogether. When that doesn’t work, she sets her sights on convincing Bernard to run for the School Board.
Bernard’s a constant presence at School Board meetings, completely unafraid of voicing his heavily researched opinions on a variety of topics that affect students. None of his requests are taken seriously, and any change he suggests is immediately voted down.
Although Bernard doesn’t have any political aspirations, Veronica’s able to convince him the best way to enact change is from within as a member of the ruling body. After much consideration, Bernard embraces the idea of running for a seat on the School Board and wholeheartedly throws himself into the campaign.
Bernard and Veronica share the same goal: to get Bernie, as Veronica rebrands him, a place on the School Board. However, their approach to drumming up support for Bernie’s campaign is dramatically different. Veronica’s used to telling people what they need to hear to get them on board her many projects (all of which are aimed at padding her résumé for college), while Bernie’s a straight-shooter who over-explains his position on any given topic. Still, they’re able to bond over the course of the campaign and their firm beliefs in doing what’s best for their fellow students win over not just their fellow peers but also the audience of this delightful comedy.
Eric Stoltz, a man who knows a thing or two about stories set in high school, directed Class Rank from a script by Benjamin August (2015’s Remember). As an actor, Stoltz spent the 1980s starring in films such as Fast Times at Ridgemont High, The Wild Life, The New Kids, Mask, and Some Kind of Wonderful. Among his recent directing credits are 12 episodes of the television high school comedy/drama, Glee. Stoltz’s experience pays off with a film that feels both genuine and timeless.
Class Rank is John Hughes-lite, so to speak, and that’s meant as a compliment. Hughes understood his audience and his films were grounded in reality, albeit a reality sprinkled with exaggerated personalities. Director Stoltz and writer August’s fictional high school is also populated with well-written, realistic characters who are dealing with complex issues while treading the awkward stage between childhood and adulthood.
Skyler Gisondo and Olivia Holt are terrific as high school students attempting to navigate through one of the most difficult stages of life. Stoltz surrounds Gisondo and Holt with a talented cast of supporting players that includes Bruce Dern, Kristin Chenoweth, and Kathleen Chalfant. In fact, Dern’s so good as Gisondo’s grandfather that it would have been fun to spend a bit more time with his character. The on-screen relationship between Gisondo and Dern is so compelling it nearly outshines Gisondo’s scenes with Holt.
Class Rank is an engaging coming of age film with a few unexpected twists that keep it from being too predictable. And, thankfully, the political campaign at the center of the film bears no resemblance to current affairs.
MPAA Rating: Not rated
Running Time 101 minutes
Release Date: Cinedigm’s releasing Class Rank in theaters, on digital, and On Demand on May 11, 2018