Love Is the Drug

Opens at Uptown and Bellevue Galleria, Fri., Oct. 6. Rated R. 96 minutes.

Love. Desire. Betrayal. Blah, blah, blah. The problem with treating high-school drama too seriously is that it will likely end up being a laughable mess—for teen viewers especially. Fortunately, Love Is the Drug manages to avoid this bear trap for its first hour, as we meet Jonah (John Patrick Amedori, convincingly awkward), a sensitive, Beat poet–loving kid attending the prissy-pants Harward High. He pines after the popular, blond Sara Weller (played by Lizzy Caplan with grace, empathy, and a delicate sensuality). She becomes taken with a poem he reads during the last class of their senior year, and a curious friendship develops.

Sara's exclusive clique consists of the usual suspects: the slutty party chick, the bullying asshole, and the silver-spoon pretty boy. Jonah's inclusion is begrudged at first, but he eases his entry by swiping pills at the pharmacy where he works. Sex, stealing, partying, and bad karaoke ensue in rapid succession.

Drug makes a compelling stab at teen drug-buddy realism, despite being co-written by a 52-year-old (Cape Fear screenwriter Wesley Strick). Yes, rich kids self-medicating to numb the pain of privilege is a dead horse beaten beyond recognition, but smart dialogue, believable behavior, and unfussy cinematography make Drug a convincing exercise in teenage angst.

Until that last 30 minutes, at least, when the film takes an ill-advised U-turn into melodrama and would-be thriller mode. And if younger filmgoers begin snickering at that point, their reaction will be as genuine as Drug's first hour. TIFFANY WAN

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