If you decide to watch Just Peck, (and I recommend you do, it's fabulous), and expect a light-hearted comedy, you should probably switch it off at about the 1 hour mark. Yes, you will miss its conclusion, and yes, that will suck, but if you only want something that is easy to watch, then this isn't the movie for you.
The reason for this, is that around the aforementioned point in time, it takes a really, really dark turn. Now, I expected as much, there are little hints everywhere throughout the film, character quips and comments that might lead you to this conclusion, but I had no idea as to how much it would affect me emotionally. In hindsight, I probably should have recognized that it would, but that's the thing about hindsight--it's always 20-20.
The plot revolves around one 15-year-old named Michael Peck (Keir Gilchrist). He's not exactly what you would call "popular", and is in fact one of the lesser known people in the school. Even when he gets put into detention for trying some weed, the principal has to ask if he's a new student. He had never been in trouble before, mostly due to the fact that his parents more or less control his life, all the way down to what extra-curricular activities he partakes in.
Here is a child who has had little-to-no freedom for his entire life. He still gets everything picked out for him, and the day he finally is allowed to drink coffee is the biggest day of his life. His friend is a bit of a jerk, and they don't seem to be all that close. Although don't think that he's one of those "goodie-two-shoes" types of people, because he isn't. He--wait for it--skips school one day.
It's on this day when he and his friend, Geiger, come across to other students skipping school. They're girls, something that almost seems like a foreign concept for our characters. "I get the blonde", Peck says. They meet the girls, and manage to get a ride back to school with them. After arriving, they decide to smoke some weed, something else that seems like a foreign concept to Peck.
After this "experience", Peck and Geiger become closer to the two girls. One of them, Emily (Brie Larson), becomes much closer to Peck, even, at one point, asking him to come over to her house so they can get high once more. The only problem with this is that Emily and her friend are popular, while Peck and Geiger are not. So, yes, this is another story about class breaking in high school, and if you are already sick of that style of story, then you might just want to forget about Just Peck.
Or at least, that's what I was thinking near the beginning of the film. See, there were only two things that kept me watching in the first half of the film. The first was the subtle hints dropped about Emily's parents, and the second was the script. The writing was something that I came to adore by the end of the film. It did a decent job of capturing the high school experience from the view of a "loser" like Peck, (or at least, how I would imagine it would be like...), and it also did a good job of being constantly humorous.
While it was certainly tamer than high school actually is, I could see that they were trying to make the script edgy enough to make it seem like the children were rebellious. There were also some moments of brilliance, particularly when the characters were insulting third parties, seemingly coming up with said insults on the spot. Whether or not these scenes were improv is something I'll likely never find out, but if they were, good job actors!
You know, I thought I was going to get tired of Keir Gilchrist in the lead role. I think it has something to do with his voice, although I'm not exactly sure. Five minutes in, I was already ready and willing to bully him, just as the kids at American High were doing. He did manage to grow on me though, possibly because of good acting, but also because of good characterization. None of the acting was poor, with the school principal, played by Camryn Manheim, being the stand-out performance. And mention must be given to the turns provided by Alan Arkin and Marcia Cross, who play Mr. and Mrs. Peck. They provide a lot of laughs as the stern, overbearing parents.
Like I mentioned above, the characters were well-developed. Peck and Emily both got enough time to develop as a character, while also becoming characters that we will grow to care about. They each have problems, most of them stemming from their parents, and we get to learn, or infer, what these problems are and how each character deals with them. Some of them are heartbreaking, and ones that I could personally relate to--possibly being the reason I enjoyed this movie as much as I did.
It's still really unfortunate how misleading this movie is. The turn near the end was really dark, and hit me like a wall. Again, this could be just because of how well I could relate to the characters involved, but man, that was hard to watch. I'll admit, I shed more than a singular tear at this point, as I could really empathize with the characters. Up until that point, it was a fairly light-hearted comedy, but here it turned into a very serious drama. It was an odd turn, but one that I did end up appreciating, because it means that you do get some sort of emotional release, even if it isn't the kind you want.
One thing that I would like to point out is how American the film does feel. I mean, I'm not going to criticize it for this, because it doesn't get in the way of the overall product, but the Just Peck does feel like it's from the United States. The school is called "American High", the pledge of allegiance is done at least 3 times, and the American flag is shown prominently many times. I'm almost wondering if this, combined with the slightly over-the-top principal was used as a means of satirizing some part of American culture, which, I suppose could be true.
What I'm getting at here is that I really enjoyed Just Peck. It felt like an authentic high school story, the characters were deep and changed as the film progressed, the acting was solid, and the attempted humor succeeded in making me laugh. I had no idea I would grow as attached to the characters as I did though, meaning the unexpected dark turn in the story hit me like a brick wall. That's not necessarily bad, but if you go in expecting a light comedy, (I hope you don't now, otherwise I haven't done my job properly), you'll be greatly shocked by this turn. I would definitely recommend giving Just Peck a watch though--it's just too enjoyable to pass up.