Monday, December 18, 2017

A24 A-to-Z: #21. "Barely Lethal" (2015)

Scene from Barely Lethal
In case you didn't know, A24 is one of the great purveyors of modern cinema. Since 2013, the studio has found a way to innovate independent cinema by turning each release into an event. As a result, A24 A-to-Z will be an ongoing series that looks at every release from the studio by analyzing its production history, release, criticisms, and any awards attention that it might've received. Join me on a quest to explore the modern heroes of cinema by exploring every hit and miss that comes with that magnificent logo. They may not all be great, but they more than make A24 what it is and what it will hopefully continue to be for ears to come.

Barely Lethal
Released: April 30, 2015 
Release Number: 21
Directed By: Kyle Newman
Written By: John D'Arco
Starring: Jamie King, Samuel L. Jackson, Madeleine Stack
Plot: A teenage special ops agent coveting a "normal" adolescence fakes her own death and enrolls in a suburban high school. She quickly learns that surviving the treacherous waters of high school is more challenging than international espionage.

There are two distinctions to the A24 brand: the theatrical release, and the direct-to-video DirecTV releases. The latter camp is often distinguished by high concept stories that are met with unfavorable reviews. Director Kyle Newman's Barely Lethal is a high school spy comedy that ranks among A24's least acclaimed work, even by DirecTV standards, despite featuring Oscar nominees Samuel L. Jackson ad Hailee Steinfeld, as well as Game of Thrones favorite Sophie Turner. The film is a revision of the teenage comedy, and it does so by dissecting everything that came before in a manner that is madcap and lively. The film is an odd entry into the canon, if just because of its more specialized subject matter. It's not the first high school movie that A24 released (most of the Freshman class were about teenagers), but it's definitely among the most bubbly.

The story goes that Newman received the John D'Arco's screenplay from an old roommate who was working at RKO. Newman remembers being charmed by what he read, believing it to be an excellent subversion of the high school comedy tropes. It was about a spy whose cultured view of the experience came from movies, citing Bring It On, Clueless, Mean Girls, and Easy A as examples. He loved the idea of mixing it with a more action based story, believing that it brought some personality to the picture. The one caveat is that he was aware of how long production could take. His previous film, Fanboys, took seven years to be released amid lackluster box office. By comparison, Barely Lethal would be a bigger success, taking only four years to gain financing and seek release. 

The only real conflict is that financing was difficult due to the film being centered around women. It eventually helped that Jackson signed onto the film, claiming to have loved the script. Steinfeld and Turner would sign on, but there was another catch: a large portion of the central cast were still in high school, so they had to cut hours in order to attend schooling. Financing eventually came, in part from Brett Ratner's company RatPac. Newman claims that Ratner helped to shape the production of the film, creating a more focused vision of how to shoot action sequences, using choreographers who had worked on American Sniper, and get the best possible film. Steinfeld and Turner did their own stunts on the film, believing that it would be fun. The film had been shot in Atlanta, Georgia in December of 2013 with certain scenes being altered in order to fit last minute changes. Meanwhile, supporting actors like Rob Huebel and Jackass' Steve-O stopped by for brief scenes.

The biggest issue facing the film was the MPAA rating. Because it dealt with subjects related to teenage partying, the MPAA initially gave it an R-Rating. Newman believed that the film had a PG-13 mentality, and fought for it on the grounds that there's nothing too risque about the film. There's nothing grotesque or offensive that would warrant the more limited rating. He eventually got his way, and the film was released on DirecTV with a limited theatrical release in April of 2015. The film would go on to gross $6,075 at the box office. Unfortunately, the reviews were just as unfavorable to the film. The best that could be said was summed up by Justin Lowe of The Hollywood Reporter, who claimed that it was "A fun enough teen action comedy." However, more people were critical of it, with Jon Neumaier of the New York Daily News claiming that "This mashup of a teenage assassin lark and high school misfit comedy misses the chance to add a supercool heroine to pop culture."

Barely Lethal was always going to be an odd fit for A24's image. It was trying to be a quirky comedy with action elements, and felt at odds with itself the entire time. Steinfeld would eventually get a great teenage comedy to her credit the following year with The Edge of Seventeen. However, Barely Lethal was another misfire in the DirecTV section of A24's filmography, failing to be anything more than a very familiar and gimmicky movie. But things would change, if just a little, for A24 with their next film. With exception to the neo-western tones of The Rover, the studio was about to enter the old west genre with an art house take on the gun slinging heroes who inhabited it. Slow West was another smaller film in their filmography, but it was also another surprise for a year that was shaping up to be among their best work yet.

Up Next: Slow West (2015)

No comments:

Post a Comment