In The Secret Lives of Dorks Payton is a pathetic dork, a comic book geek whose high school career is one series of bad moves one after another. Resume:Geek au physique ingrat, Payton est fou amoureux de Samantha, pom-pom girl et petite amie de Clark, capitaine de l'equipe de football du lycee. Kudos to director Salome Breziner (working with screenwriters Nicholas Brandt & Johnny Severin). In popular culture, there’s a mythical version of high school as a place full of one-dimensional jocks and dorks, a strongly regimented caste system where no one is allowed to develop a personality beyond “wears glasses” or “wears a letterman’s jacket.” Of course, no real high school works like this today, and I suspect none ever did. Especially in its early minutes, The Secret Lives of Dorks is a terrible offender in this tradition, rendering its nerds, jocks, cheerleaders, and teachers in such broad strokes it feels as if someone wrote “stock type” in the script and forgot to fill it in later. For the first third of the movie, there are so many cut away gags, animated interludes, and fantasy sequences the film barely has time to coalesce. Beyond its strangely aggressive and wildly ineffective attempts at comedy, the film has serious problems with characterization, Carrie chief among them. The Secret Lives of Dorks is less a movie than someone’s idea of what a movie might look like. Jordan Ferguson is a lifelong pop culture fan, and would probably never leave his couch if he could get away with it.
Hopelessly in love with Carrie, Payton is given life lessons by Carrie, who hopes to socialize Payton just enough to get him off her back and into the arms of Samantha.
The genre had a second Golden Age in the late ‘90s and early ‘00s (with films like Clueless and Ten Things I Hate About You), yet many entries are still stuck in a version of high school that never existed and hasn’t even been the prevalent fiction in decades. The film follows one of the high school species it calls (again and again and again) “dorks,” Payton (Gaelan Connell), a kid with huge glasses and little game with the ladies. Its merits are entirely wrapped up in its frenetic pace, but the speed of the jokes doesn’t matter all that much if the jokes themselves aren’t funny. The movie wants to subvert the conception of her as a dumb cheerleader, but it’s a little too in love with the trope to ever truly undercut it, so that her intelligence varies wildly from scene to scene, as does her social awareness.


Vanessa Marano does the best with what she’s given and runs circles around Gaelan Connell in the process. It’s a patchwork monster of teen movie cliches, puerile comedy, and ill-conceived artistic digressions desperate for an original insight or unique idea.
When he isn’t wasting time “practicing law" in Los Angeles, he writes about film, television, and music. And when Payton takes his act out in public… well, that’s when his life shifts into gear from lonely misery to utter disaster! The Secret Lives of Dorks is a film that takes place entirely within this reductive universe, subsisting on an antiquated stereotypical vision of dorkdom.
The reverence for John Hughes that runs through this strain of teen movies is well placed but completely misunderstood. Payton is in love with Carrie (Riley Voelkel), the head cheerleader (has anyone ever fallen in love with a non-head cheerleader?), though she is repulsed by his obvious interest in anything other than being an attractive athlete. We are treated to such physical gags as cupcakes landing on Carrie’s boobs and Payton farting (a lot) while picking up Samantha for a date, and the only pleasure of these attempts at comedy is that they are over reasonably quickly so that the movie can rush on to its next insipid attempt at humor.
She’s a cipher that is whatever the film needs her to be in any given scene, which takes any of the subversive bite out of her character. Where Connell’s Payton is constantly mugging and flailing about, Marano is centered even when she’s being subjected to undercooked physical comedy (rarely has anyone been able to appear dignified while being covered in projectile vomit. Outside of a solid performance by Marano, who is treading water on the Titanic here, there’s nothing about this movie that makes it worth your time. In addition to serving as TV Editor and Senior Staff Film Critic for Next Projection, Jordan is a contributor to various outlets, including his own personal site, Review To Be Named (where he still writes sometimes, promise). Hughes is effective not because of his sense of high school hierarchies, but because of the way he roots all of his characters, regardless of their age, in realistic emotions.
Because this is a movie, Carrie decides to set Payton up with Samantha (Vanessa Marano), another “dork,” to get him to leave her alone.


That first date between Payton and Samantha gives us an elongated sequence that throws seeming every idea about what could go wrong on a date out and hopes something will stick.
It’s hard to be punk rock when you’re so paint-by-numbers, and it is hard to take her seriously when there’s never a sense that she is anything more than what the script requires. Because yes, this movies has not one, but several instances of projectile vomit), and the strength of her delivery actually nearly saves some pretty weak material. Hughes understood emotions like a simultaneous hope for the future, uncertainty about the present, and nostalgia for the past that these films miss in their rush to decry high school as a place of social humiliation and subjugation of fringe interests. This tepid love triangle is overseen by Payton’s father, Bronko (Jim Belushi) and his chemistry teacher Ms. The true marvel of the set piece is that nothing resonates as more than the very first ideas you might dream up while brainstorming a list of cliches. The film’s best sequences are the ones most focused on Samantha, and for a brief stretch, it almost seems like Marano might be the life raft the movie desperately needs. Its easy to see what will go wrong next here; just imagine the most obvious thing that could happen next and it will mystically appear, as if screenwriter Johnny Severin is reading your nightmares. Unfortunately, the narrative wrests control from her and drives things directly off the rails, into a parade of cliches the likes of which you have seen in dozens of teen movies before. It’s as if the film realized it had Jennifer Tilly and Jim Belushi and then had no idea what to do with them. The climax involves a dance, date-switching, painful realizations that are obvious to everyone but the main character, a running sequence, an apology speech, and a perplexingly long montage of various people we have never seen before making out with each other.
Add to that a recurring cameo from Mike Ditka that stretches his proclivity for self-parody far past its limits, and you’re left with a film that is drowning in mischaracterizations and missed opportunities.




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