In a very welcome casting change, not one of the stars has a background that includes either Party of Five or Dawson's Creek (the screenwriter, yes, but no cast members). Instead, we get the wonderfully talented Melissa Joan Hart, recently known for ABC's Sabrina, the Teenage Witch, but also rightfully acclaimed for her Nickelodeon series Clarissa Explains It All, which was a smart teen show back when Nickelodeon was nothing but dumb. She has been long overdue for a big-screen starring role. As for her leading man, Adrian Grenier can be seen as the title character in the recently released The Adventures of Sebastian Cole.
Here's the premise they're saddled with: Nicole (Hart) has been desperately trying to get the star high-school basketball player to ask her out. It looks as though he will, but at the last minute, he falls for a rival school's cheerleader. Meanwhile, Nicole's next-door neighbor Chase (Grenier) has had a bad breakup with his girlfriend and wants to win her back. Nicole proposes a solution: If she and Chase pretend to be a couple, they can make their respective would-be-paramours jealous enough to want them again. The deaf and blind know where this is going.
For the most part, we're in teen-movie fantasy world from the get-go. Every high-school student looks older and more beautiful than any actual high schooler, the kids all seem to have an infinite wardrobe budget, and the school not only has its own fully equipped TV studio, but can also manage to set up an end-of-year dance that makes the MTV Video Music Awards look frugal. Where Drive Me Crazy diverges from most high-school movies, however, is in its evenhanded portrayal of the popular and unpopular crowds. Most movies would stack the deck one way or another, and director John Schultz (Bandwagon), along with screenwriter Rob Thomas, does generalize a little, but even the jocks, traditionally the meanest and dumbest characters in the genre, are portrayed as multidimensional characters, and the story's ultimate message is one of compromise.
Nicole cleans Chase up, then forces him to come to basketball games and cruise Main Street; soon, he's charming even the sports team, who address him as "Hambone." Chase, on the other hand, after much arm-twisting, manages to get Nicole to come with him to a punk-Goth club, confront the shallowness of some of her friends, and realize that nerds are people too.
In addition to having intelligent and charismatic leads, Schulz gets great supporting performances from, among others, Mark Webber (the forthcoming Whiteboys) as Designated Dave, the guy whose job it is to drive drunk classmates home; Kris Park as Ray, the token Internet-geek-film-school-wannabe; and William Converse-Roberts as Chase's father, acting like Ray Romano's psychotic twin. There is a prominent appearance by one of the stars of a WB teen show, but it's Stephen Collins, the father from Seventh Heaven, as Nicole's deadbeat dad. Most members of the young cast are relative newcomers and haven't had time to get irritatingly overexposed (Jennifer Love Hewitt, anyone?). Melissa Joan Hart is obviously the most seasoned and exposed, but this pretty, smart, and talented young lady deserves all the success she can get. Can't wait to see what she'll do when she gets hold of a real script.