Megan Walsh (Hailee Steinfeld) is a teenage special ops agent who yearns for a normal adolescence. After faking her own death she assumes the role of an exchange student and quickly learns that surviving the treacherous waters of a typical American high school can be even more difficult than international espionage.
Next up in my Hailee Steinfeld movie marathon comes Barely Lethal, which funny enough, was the movie that I was dreading watching the most in her entire filmography. Literally nothing about this film enticed me before I saw it. All of the promotional material looked genuinely awful right down to the trailers and even the posters.
On top of that, everybody that I have ever talked to has said that this movie was insanely bad. Some of my friends on Letterboxd have rated it one star, and their opinions are ones that I usually agree with. So, it’s safe to say that I was seriously dreading watching Kyle Newman’s Barely Lethal.
But in a shocking turn of events, it turns out that it is actually exceptionally enjoyable and overall, is a good movie. I’m not kidding. It’s a genuinely sweet and easygoing watch with such a strong sense of comfort radiating off of it. It’s unironically full of heart and manages to tell a fairly decent coming-of-age spy story.
The heart of the movie really comes from Hailee Steinfeld, though. She somehow manages to make every single movie that she is in ten times better. In the role of Megan Walsh, she manages to find just the right balance between a feisty spy heroine and an everyday high school student. She is so likable in this role and you really do feel a lot of sympathy towards her.
Her dynamic between the rest of the cast, namely Thomas Mann, was also incredibly cute and charming. Is it goofy? Yes. Absolutely. In fact, this entire film is so extremely over-the-top that it can be laughable. But Newman knows this. He embraces the corniness of the film one-hundred and ten percent. The movie never takes itself too seriously, which was such a blessing. It’s a self-aware corny extravaganza that was so much fun to watch.
However, if you were to watch this movie and say that it was the worst thing that you have ever seen, I can totally understand that and I wouldn’t question any of it. It’s hilarious goofy and none of it makes a ton of sense, to be honest. One minute we will be watching a fairly normal scene and then suddenly, we see something immensely strange happen out of the blue. You’ll pause and wonder “What did I just watch?” but in all the best ways. At least, that’s how I feel.
This film shouldn’t have worked as well as it did. It honestly shouldn’t have. I almost want to call it a guilty pleasure, but I simply can’t. I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t have a massive smile on my face the whole entire time, and to be truthful, I kind of want to watch it again immediately. Who knew a spy coming-of-age story would be worth telling? I certainly didn’t.
Barely Lethal is an over-the-top, ridiculously corny spy coming-of-age film, but in all the best ways. It’s extremely baffling and weird, but it’s oh so good.
Overall Grade: B-
MPAA Rating: PG-13 on appeal for sexual material, teen drinking, language, drug references and some action violence
Directed by: Kyle Newman
Distributed by: A24, DirecTV Cinema
Release Date: May 29, 2015
Running Time: 98 minutes