It is always gratifying to be surprised by a small film that arrives in theatres with little hype. Drive Me Crazy is a splendid teen movie that seems, at first blush, much like a fistful of contemporaneous releases in the genre. But its heart, and smart sense of style, owes much more to the golden era of 1980s teen flicks.
Jaundiced critics swiftly compared it to Ten Things I Hate About You (1999) and She's All That (1999). Yes, it showcases a young television star (Melissa Joan Hart from Sabrina the Teenage Witch). And yes, it relies upon a much-used premise that plays out with perfect predictability: Nicole (Hart) makes over her grungy neighbour, Chase (Adrian Grenier) in the hope of attracting the attention of hunky Brad (Gabriel Carpenter).
The romantic angle of the film is sweet and satisfying. But this is a film of details: one-liners, costumes, pop culture references, little bits of typical, fad-driven behaviour. As in a John Hughes movie like Sixteen Candles (1984), even the smallest characters are treated with a sharp, affectionate eye – such as 'designated Dave' (Mark Webber), the poor guy who finds himself driving every sozzled partygoer home.
From the moment early on when the camera sweeps, to the accompaniment of a guitar power chord, into the bedraggled Chase flopped on his bed, Drive Me Crazy shows its full, effortless command of the teen genre. Director John Schultz takes a running leap into the mainstream after his promising debut, Bandwagon (1997) – his career will be well worth watching.
The clever script by Rob Thomas (Dawson's Creek) derives much mileage from the extended comparison between two vastly different youth cultures – on the one hand, the 'Gap crowd' with its middle-of-the-road tastes and values, and on the other, the cool, rad minority epitomised by Chase, in pursuit of poetry and politics.
A typical '90s teen movie would be driven to valorise one of these groups over the other. Not Drive Me Crazy. Like a savvy '80s comedy, it negotiates a canny mid-way point between these two poles of youth culture, after many skirmishes that demonstrate both their differences and crossovers.
This delightful film (like most interesting teen movies) will probably find its modest cult audience in video/DVD shops, where appreciative fans of the genre will savour its wit, colour and inventiveness.
© Adrian Martin February 2000