Resembling a far kinder cousin of “Election,” this surprisingly sweet teen comedy pairs two overachieving outcasts but is still fun for adults. “Class Rank” is a late bloomer that takes time to find its footing, but once it does, it proves to be as stealthily likable as its characters.
Bernard Flannigan (Skyler Gisondo) is an awkward, pedantic high school junior who never misses a meeting of the school board and counts his grandfather (Bruce Dern, delightful) as his only friend — other than his Chinese pen pal/girlfriend. His classmate Veronica Krauss (Olivia Holt) has her life planned out from when she wakes up each morning until she’s a Supreme Court justice, and it all starts with being No. 1 in her class and going to Yale. When the principal informs her that she’s No. 2 and can’t catch the student ahead of her, she concocts a plan to elect Bernard to the local school board to abolish class rankings. The two bond during the campaign, as Bernie attempts to beat the adult incumbents and Veronica learns there’s more to him than she’d initially thought.
Director Eric Stoltz, a veteran of John Hughes’ “Some Kind of Wonderful,” has a knack with young actors, while displaying a clear style. Not every flourish works, but the heart and humor in Benjamin August’s script shine through. There’s real affection for each oddball on screen, and although “Class Rank” heads toward a predictable conclusion, there are enjoyable surprises along the way.
Running time: 1 hour, 48 minutes
Playing: Laemmle Monica Film Center, Santa Monica