Barely Lethal (2015)
Some Saturday nights call for playing a girly movie that defines the very definition of “chick flick.” That’s exactly what I found when watching this action film (many months back now). Wearing its heart on its sleeve, Barely Lethal gives us an insanely likable heroine and a script that isn’t short on sass.
The Hardman School “finishing school” for girls is unusual. Instead of social graces and basic arithmetic, this school teaches the finer points of weaponry and more specifically, acquiring a target. You see Hardman (Samuel L. Jackson) runs a government agency school that trains young girls to be assassins. Many of his students are orphans, including his brightest star, Agent 47 (Hailee Steinfeld). Agent 47 may excel at her job, but she also longs for a clean slate. Adding to her string of successes, she has just successfully secured the capture of one of the school’s greatest arch nemesis’ Victoria Knox (Jessica Alba). Only in so doing, Victoria bests her before she can react. Believing her to be dead, Hardman and her team leaves her behind.
Seizing her opportunity, she crafts a new identity and adopts the name of Megan Walsh, promptly setting about living a normal teenage life. She pretends to be a Canadian foreign exchange student and picks the Larson family to be her hosts. Liz Larson (Dove Cameron) is less than thrilled her mother (Rachael Harris) is opening their home to a stranger, and when she meets Megan, she’s even more embarrassed by their guest who seems to know nothing about their peer group’s culture. As Megan struggles to fit in – and make friends with the cute guys she meets, she finds her experience living as normal nothing she expected, and everything she wanted.
Though this film had more crude humor than anticipated of a PG13 teen comedy, I thought it was 100% charming. Part of this could have to do with Hailee Steinfeld headlining. Her exuberance for each of the roles she played – whether it’s that of an enthusiastic, bubbly teenager (as is the case here; the hilarious bit involving her binge-watching 90s teen flicks is fantastic as is her reliance on that “education”) or a staid, more mature character (3 Days to Kill or True Grit), her acting never ceases to amaze. I suspect she’s one up-and-coming actress who will indeed go far. The banter between her and Liz is fantastic. I enjoyed their reluctant friendship, and the eventual mutual respect they seem to have for one another. Really, everyone is terrific in their respective roles. Having seen Rachael in Suits, it was an unexpected treat to see her in a vastly different role and Liz’s brother, Parker gets in some great quips.
Though everything is approached with humor, this isn’t the kind of film everyone will like. For those it's not a good fit for, there’s a moral line that’s sometimes questionable given what the girls have been trained to do. Until the entire story wraps, we’re never quite sure what Hardman’s purpose is. Is he really up to nefarious business or is he the big softie Megan thinks he is? It’s these questions that keep us in a perpetual guessing game while still having an inkling everything that needs to turn out well will. In the script’s pursuit to be funny, some of the scenes do falter and wander into the dreaded slapstick arena. There is a time and place for that type of humor, but I didn’t feel like this story needed it nor did it utilize it well. Especially considering most of the scenes are recycled “concepts” (i.e., girls fighting over a guy) that are worn out.