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Could stealing the SAT be easier than taking the SAT?
on June 29, 2004
No, I do not remember my SAT score, but I have taught enough high school students terrorized by the thought of how a four digit number could totally ruin their lives (i.e., deny them the college of their dreams) to realize that this is a tender subject. Which is why it is nice to report that "The Perfect Score" does take things seriously at the same time it is having fun with the paranoia. I might not be able to answer any of the SAT questions that pop up during the movie, but I do know that the screenplay by Mark Schwahn (creator of "One Tree Hill"), Marc Hyman ("Osmosis Jones") and Jon Zack ("Out Cold") is a lot better than I would have thought for a movie like this 2004 comedy.
The story takes place in Princeton, New Jersey which is, oddly enough, where you find the Princeton Testing Center that is the home of the SAT exam (SAT stood for Scholastic Aptitude Test but one of the running gags in this film is the effort to come up with a more appropriate meaning to the anagram). The first SAT exam of the year has come and gone and Kyle (Chris Evans) discovers his score is too low to get him into Cornell and Anna (Erika Christensen) can apparently forget about her parents' dream of Brown. The next exam is in two weeks and since getting smarter in a fortnight is not likely, stealing the exam sounds like a good idea. Kyle's friend Matty (Bryan Greenberg), already bound for Maryland, is willing to help and they approach Francesca (Scarlett Johansson), whose daddy happens to run PTC and can provide a way in. The final members of the group are Desmond (Darius Miles), a basketball star whose mom wants him to go to college, and Roy (Leonardo Nam), a stoner who is involved only because he knows about what is going on.
Now, in the real world stealing one SAT exam does not do you any good because there are several versions, so the person sitting next to you can have different questions or the questions are in a different order (or both). But that is besides the point in "The Perfect Score" and I ended up liking this movie a lot more than I thought I would for three reasons. The first I cannot tell you about because it would spoil the movie, but it has to do with an interesting twist on expectations. The second is the character of Desmond's mother (Tyra Ferrell), who has an impact on more than just her son. This film plays a lot with the stereotypes, from class brain to dumb jock to stoner, and I like the way Desmond's mother fits into that mold as well. The third is that this film comes up with a really, really great line about why not to be scared about the questions on the SAT, spoken, of course, by the most ironic character in the mix.
"The Perfect Score" is an enjoyable little caper comedy that certainly exceeds expectations, which is not a bad recommendation given most teen comedies today. The characters manage to avoid being stupid, a standard pitfall in the genre, although I suspect there are those who will be disappointed with the way things get resolved at the end. I also think it was nice that if Scarlett Johansson could not get an Oscar nomination for either "Lost in Translation" or "Girl With a PEarl Earring" then at least she got to do a decent "Matrix" takeoff in this film. Plus it was interesting to see Darius Miles who went to the pros instead of attending St. Johns University play a character who does the opposite, although it is ironic to see Mike Jarvis play himself since he had been fired from the St. Johns post by the time "The Perfect Score" was released.