The Outcasts, 2017.
Directed by Peter Hutchings.
Starring Eden Sher, Victoria Justice, Ashley Rickards, Katie Chang, Jazmyn Richardson, Peyton List, Claudia Lee, Avan Jogia.
Two high school girls, tired of being bullied by the popular kids, set out to unite opposing factions of outsiders at their school in hopes of realigning the social pecking order.
The Outcasts, the new teen comedy from director Peter Hutchings, is a wildly entertaining surprise. While the film itself at first comes across as a rather stereotypical, low-budget Mean Girls rip-off, it blossoms into an incredibly funny, occasionally touching, and very well acted piece of entertainment.
The story follows two nerdy best friends as they try to navigate their final year of high school. Science-y Mindy (an outstanding Eden Sher, of television’s The Middle) and music nut Jodi (Victoria Justice of the recent Rocky Horror remake) decide to end their struggles by approaching Queen Bee Whitney (Claudia Lee) to talk things out “like adults.” Several humiliations later, they decide diplomacy isn’t enough, and set out to unite the school’s young entrepreneurs, sci-fi fans, and fantasy fanboys in order to stage a hostile takeover.
While the beats that the plot follows are very expected and the shaky filmmaking hovers only just above made-for-TV-movie levels, the excellent performances by Sher and Justice and the current, funny dialogue make The Outcasts incredibly dynamic, and its 95 minute runtime flies by.
The script, by debut screenwriters Dominique Ferrari and Suzanne Wrubel, is not only really funny but finds ways to believably infuse pop culture references in ways that serve the story. Snappy quips about Firefly, Veronica Mars, Battlestar Galactica, science fiction legend Neil Stephenson, The Lord of the Rings, and, of course, Star Wars, offer winks and nods to real life geeks but, more importantly, help to build the characters of those referencing them.
And this excellent script is in very capable hands in The Outcasts, particularly with stars Sher and Justice. Sher has shown time and time again in her work on The Middle that she has excellent comic timing, and that is on full display here, as is her knack for goofy physical comedy. And Justice infuses a depth and confidence to her character that makes her impossible not to root for, even when she is behaving badly. She’s the perfect emotional center for the film. The chemistry between the two leads is also outstanding and watching their friendship strengthen and face adversity feels believable and interesting.
While it serves the main actors well, the script does when it comes to stereotypes. Ferrari and Wrubel do well to make Mindy and Jodi interesting, unique characters, but many of the side characters come off as tropes, particularly when it comes to minorities. The only primary black character is, of course, sassy and aggressive, and though she is well played by newcomer Jazmyn Richardson we’ve seen this character before. A computer-obsessed Asian character is treated similarly, as are several of the nerd overlords who Mindy and Jodi try to bring into the army of outsiders. There are a couple of gay subplots as well, and while one involving an obsessive girl scout is handled well, the others feel at best tacky and at worst out of touch.
Still, The Outcasts manages to win out in the end by presenting strong performances and a funny, dynamic script. While the film could be much more polished and the representation of supporting characters could have been more fully developed, the movie itself is such a breath of fresh air. It’s fun, it’s funny, and it gives two young, exciting actors a chance to show off their talents, and they make the most of the opportunity.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★