Honor Society review – a sharp, surprisingly dark high school comedy

Honor Society review – a sharp, surprisingly dark high school comedy

Published July 30, 2022
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Honor Society, a dark comedy about prestige-obsessed high school students, opens with familiar faces of pop feminism: Beyoncé and Billie Eilish. They’re the faces Honor Rose (the Spider-man movies’ Angourie Rice) sees on her wall as she undergoes her lengthy morning routine before senior year – white strips for her teeth, jade roll on her face, straightener on her blonde bob. The montage recalls the opening scene of Booksmart, another sharp film about overachieving teenage girls. But whereas Booksmart’s ambitious protagonists sincerely worshipped RBG, Michelle Obama and Gloria Steinem with contempt for the less driven (“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. “They’re all bullshit,” she says to us, “but these are the gods of my people, so I must worship them.”

It’s a surprising, deliciously delusional opener that underscores this deceptively cutting, darker than you’d expect film on the prestige-obsessed, directed by Oran Zegman in her feature-length debut. A senior in a small town in what could be anywhere in the north-east, Honor has one goal for high school – to get out of it – and one idol only: Harvard, whose acceptance rate (4.6%) she knows off-hand. Honor looks the part of the all-around good girl beloved by admissions committees – she founded the karate club, edits the student newspaper, captains the volleyball team, runs a food bank for the less fortunate, all while keeping her grades up.

She also breaks the fourth wall, a la Fleabag, an overused trope of late which fortunately works here because we learn how everything, every blown kiss to her basic friends Emma (Avery Konrad) and Talia (Kelcey Mawema) or polite smile, is a chameleonic act in service to her singular obsession with Harvard. What could be a tiring focus on neuroticism becomes, in David A Goodman’s barb-laden script and Zegman’s slick direction, a refreshing portrait of a real, if overrepresented, American phenomenon – ruthless competition to get into elite universities – in comical isolation. It is enjoyable to have a female protagonist acknowledge that her sole motivation is to make other people envious, to see the ideal of being well-rounded made so villainous.

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 cure-all, instead of #MeToo revenge). Both films cast Christopher Mintz-Plasse as a good-seeming, ultimately sinister guy – here, as Honor’s leery guidance counselor who picks one student per year to recommend to his best friend, a Harvard alum.