This could have been just another generic coming-of-age, high school romcom, but it's surprisingly sweet, honest, and lovable; it feels as fresh and bracing as a brand-new John Hughes movie. It's perhaps fitting, then, that Class Rank is directed by Eric Stoltz, an honorary Brat Packer who starred in the Hughes-written Some Kind of Wonderful. Stoltz and screenwriter Benjamin August (Remember) understand that teens are people too, and even high achievers have their doubts and weaknesses. Thanks to tender, nuanced performances, both Veronica and Bernard rise above potential stereotypes and become human.
At the same time, Class Rank is kind to its adult characters, who are so often made ridiculous in teen movies. Dern, who can easily be either cranky or flat-out evil, becomes a slightly edgy, shuffleboard-obsessed, caring grandpa to Bernard, and it's easy to see why the latter loves him so. Kristin Chenoweth is very funny as Veronica's mother, who works on the Law and Order: Special Victims Unit TV show and uses tidbits from its storylines in her parenting. Also delightful is Kathleen Chalfant as the publisher of the local newspaper. The characters are certainly quirky, but Stoltz gives everything a low-key, relaxed quality, and nothing seems too desperate or obvious; it's all smoothed out into a nice, clean flow. This is a kind movie, with room in its heart for all types.