The Prescott Academy breeds orphaned kids to be killer assassins in the latest take on high school, Barely Lethal. Agent 83 (Hailee Steinfeld) breaks free from the watchful eye of her training officer, Hardman (Samuel L. Jackson), and enrolls as an exchange student studying at a normal high school. Going by the name Megan Walsh, she lives with an accepting mother of two (Rachael Harris, Suits), chases the cool kid (Toby Sebastian), and befriends the dork (Thomas Mann). In the mean time, forces filled with both good and bad intentions vie to get her attentions back on the shadowy world of espionage.
Like Ashton Kutcher’s Killers (or a mashup between Kingsman and Mean Girls), Barely Lethal aims for funny, balancing real life in high school with killing people. I’m not sure I’d say it totally succeeds in reaching those goals (and yes, I find Killers rewatchable), even though Steinfeld’s repertoire (True Grit, Ender’s Game, 3 Days to Kill) has shown she’s got the chops for the more violent or gritty aspects of this. Still, the high school side plays out predictably–even too predictably–to be more than derivative. [Some might say we learned our lesson on this one in the original Back to the Future!]
The casting is pretty funny though, as sideshows like Steve-O, as Hardman’s henchman, and Jessica Alba, as an enemy agent, play their type in comedic ways. (Seriously, Steve-O gets to throw live wires around, and Alba is back in a funnier version of Dark Angel, right?) And, if you want to add a trivia aspect to what’s going on during the film, just play the “who do I recognize from Game of Thrones?”
There are two competing themes going on here, and neither will surprise you. On one hand, 83/Megan deserves to live a life that’s free and full of normal situations for adolescent high schoolers (even ones being played by college students, or older). Nevermind that we may not have had any of these ‘normal’ experiences in our high school days, but we know people who did.
On the other hand, there’s the fact that 83 is good at what she does. She can’t deny who she is or what her gifts and talents are. She’s something special, and she can’t cloak that by ‘trying to be like everyone else.’ While other high school students might not know what to do in these situations, 83 is an introspective view of herself, her community, and the world. (Okay, so the last is a bit of a stretch.)
What is apparent is that no one should (or is it can?) make it through life without attachment to anyone or anything. It’s not natural, or good, or fulfilling. We are meant for community, whether it’s in the way that I see our Creator God as a Trinity or the way that God made human beings in community. We need each other, and we can’t make it on our own. Surviving on our own? That’s barely… lethal.