In short-pitch terms, “The Honor List” is “The Bucket List” with teenage girls.
Its genre is teen girls coming of age dramedy. And its worn-down-to-the-nub formula includes pranks and tears and quarrels and boys and trips to the ol’ swimmin’ hole.
Even its casting is paint-by-numbers. There’s nothing more to be said about creating a quartet of the pretty blonde, the plump blonde, the Asian American and the Afro-Asian teen after Honor, the title character points out how “ethnically,” they make a perfect movie “sandwich,” a Hollywood casting cliche.
Watch any number of teen comedies or horror pictures, “Dude” on Netflix for the most recent example, to see other examples of this Hollywood approach to diversity.
Written by Marilyn Fu, directed by Elissa Down, “Honor” is hilariously lacking in edge, tragically short of laughs and exasperating thanks to the thin supply of surprises.
Honestly, it plays like a picture whose agenda was “create a safe space” first, “empower” second, with drama and tension and suspense, pathos and wit all stuff “to be filled in later.” It never is.
Honor, Isabella, Sophie and Piper are Cali-pals when we meet, them, freshman year. Before we have more than a scene or two to get used to them, “Senior Year” pops up.
Class president Piper (Meghan Rienks of Hulu’s “Freakish”) is passed out with a boy in her driveway, unworried that her drunken dad inside the house will notice.
Sophie (Karrueche Tran of TV’s “The Bay”) is brushing off a boy as if she’s already had a lifetime of practice.
And Isabella (Sasha Pieterse of “Pretty Little Liars”) needs re-assurance from her college-age brother (Ethan Peck, 32 and looking it) that “it’s going to be OK.” Parents splitting up, her left behind at home? No. They’re due at a funeral.
Honor (thirtysomething Arden Cho of “Olympus Has Fallen”), a ballerina with big dreams, has died, a lingering illness that none of them knew about. Because they fell out as a quartet years before. She was “our best friend…back when we were ALL best friends.”
Some of the most pointed and poignant scenes in “The Honor List” show the survivors seething at each other (one skips the funeral, there’s drinking at the visitation, etc.) and their classmates back at school, many of whom have the presumption to act as if they knew Honor better. Because, you know, she was no longer friends with her old pack.
One pushy competitive mourner (Its high school, everything is a competition.) suggests they “honor her Japanese heritage” by doing this or that.
“She was TAIWANESE!”
But Honor’s mom has given the girls a mission, and a video. Honor ordered them to finish the bucket list of things they all hoped to do before graduation. It was buried in a sealed paint can (bucket) in the lake. After some reluctance, as each girl is dealing with her own stuff right now, they agree.
The “list” is where “Honor” kicks the bucket. It’s the lamest collection of quests, accomplishments and tasks, all handled without so much as a grin.
“Win a pizza-eating contest,” “Perform at an open mic night,” “Throw a kick-ass party.”
Seriously, if you cannot come up with a better list than that, and if you can’t get a laugh out of a scene where the kids get even with the body-shaming cheerleaders, “Morrisettes,” as in Alannis, you need to workshop that script or call in a co-director who can. Goat-nap the school mascot? Even the dimmest sitcom hack could find a way to make that funnier.
The emphasis is on the “sisterhood,” sans “Traveling pants.” Every girl has secrets, some of them shared with Honor. There are flashbacks and romantic complications. Sophia has made a vow of chastity, Piper has cut a wide swath through the available boys, but Isabella’s brother should be off limits, and Isabella is the hardest on everybody else, probably because her falling out with Honor has given her the most guilt.
The acting isn’t awful, though only Pieterse shows much spark in this quartet. There’s no shame to everyone’s intentions, but there’s no honor in the result, either. “The Honor List” can’t even live up to its bad-pun title.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for crude sexual material, thematic elements, alcohol use, language and brief nudity – all involving teens
Credits:Directed by Elissa Down, script by Marilyn Fu. A Lionsgate release.
Running time: 1:43