Film Review: Class Rank

This much lower-key 'Election,' which agreeably takes things nice and easy and never stresses anything too hard, is a real little winner.
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High-schoolers Bernard Flannigan (Skyler Gisondo) and Veronica Krauss (Olivia Holt) are total opposites, united for a common good. He’s a complete dweeb with no one in his life, save his crusty grandpa (Bruce Dern) and his “girlfriend,” a Chinese pen pal he has never met, and is obsessed with attending school board meetings so he can bring up topics pressing only to him. Veronica is a Miss Perfect control freak, bent on getting into Yale but sent into a tailspin when she discovers she is scholastically ranked second, not first, in her class. The abolishment of class rankings becomes her immediate goal and she agrees to help Bernard get elected to the board to meet this end. Of course, a hesitant romance ensues.

That’s pretty much it, as far as the plot goes, but director Eric Stoltz brings a real sensitivity—no doubt resulting from his many years as an actor himself—and a pleasing sunniness to his little film that makes it a potent charmer. With its love of eccentrics and near-fantastical picture of a scrubbed and gleaming smalltown America that one supposes still exists, Class Rank reminded me of some of the comedies Preston Sturges turned out for Paramount, the studio that perfected the white-picket-fence aura, but much less manic.

Gisondo has a natural puckishness that is just right for his role, and Holt, who resembles a younger Reese Witherspoon, is quite ingratiating and has an easy, believable chemistry with him. Kristin Chenoweth is amusing as Veronica’s actress mom, pure show biz, given to quoting lines from “Law & Order” to make a point. The movie is stolen, however, by Dern at his grizzled best and Kathleen Chalfant as the editor of the local newspaper, who explore a December-December romance as wry as it is affecting, proving that sex, drugs and rock and roll are not just the province of youth.

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