For the most part, successful teen comedies follow a tried and true formula. Memorable high school movies typically feature characters who feel like outsiders floundering hilariously en route to the revelation that simply by being themselves, they’ll find what’s eluded them for so long. John Hughes knew it well, as did his imitators, realizing that even small deviations can be enough to refresh the genre for a new generation. Full of charm, humor, and heart, director Laura Terruso’s “Good Girls Get High” mixes it up, delivering a “high” concept comedy in which the two kids least likely to go astray do exactly that.
High school senior Sam Jensen (Abby Quinn) and her best friend Danielle Compton (Stefanie Scott) have always lived by the rules. While the rest of their classmates were out doing the crazy, stupid things normal teens do, the two overachieving co-valedictorians were either crushing their extracurriculars, rollerblading around town, or enjoying wholesome activities on Friday nights. However, when the pair discovers they’ve been voted the school’s “Biggest Good Girls,” it sends Danielle into a tailspin. She convinces Sam there’s a ticking clock on their irrational, wild days and if they don’t do something about it now, they’ll be locked into these roles for the rest of their lives. After Sam discovers a joint hidden in her single father’s (Matt Besser) laundry, the two pals start behaving badly with their very on-brand style of pragmatism.
Working from the blueprint of Sarah Miller’s book, Terruso and co-writer Jennifer Nelson Blankenship demonstrate a clear understanding of what it takes to craft a finely-tuned, female-forward feature. The gals’ friendship is always at the forefront of the action. Our heroines are smart, funny, capable young women, who, despite their wits being impaired, remain true to themselves. Occasionally the perspective slips into their psyches, showing their world through fuzzy “weed cam” shots, Sam’s daydreamy longings for science teacher Mr. D (Danny Pudi), or Danielle’s slo-mo fantasies about harlequin-romance-haired hunk Jeremy (Booboo Stewart).
Sam and Danielle’s schoolgirl crushes aren’t their endgame; their reward is the fidelity of their friendship, and the male characters serve to complement that. It even subverts traditional roles: The character who’d usually be written as a “mean girl,” social activist influencer Ashanti (Chanté Adams), is admired and supported by the gals. The character who’d stereotypically be portrayed as the condescending authority figure, pregnant cop Patty (Lauren Lapkus), finds a lovely kinship with the pair.
The filmmakers also know how to build a highly comedic scenario. The tomfoolery the two find themselves embroiled in is absurdly funny. Though there are raunch-com elements here, the gross-out factor is fairly tame. For instance, instead of getting scatological during an intimate encounter where one character fears her upset stomach will ruin the mood (an operatic aria perfectly captures her anxiety), it’s merely gaseous emanations. An accidental sexting is handled practically. By framing the girls’ shenanigans with Sam’s Harvard admissions confessional, “Good Girls” delivers the exposition with witty commentary.
Augmenting the narrative drive, cinematographer Benjamin Rutkowski bathes the protagonists’ world in saturated colors. Sam’s sanctuaries, such as her bedroom and family ice-cream shop, are color-coded in welcoming teals and yellows. Danielle surrounds herself with light pastels. Composer Jay Israelson provides a warm ’80s-inspired synth score that would’ve suited Hughes himself.
With heartening, encouraging messages that speak to the target audience and beyond, “Good Girls Get High” doesn’t stray too far from the formula, but manipulates it in such a way that feels fresh.