If it weren’t for a couple of charmers, there’d be little but cliches behind “The New Kid,” an unoriginal debut feature by Rudi Rosenberg about, surprise, a new kid in class. Resembling any number of after-school specials, the pic is pleasant but slight, buoyed by a few sunny adolescents who aren’t to know that ineffectual teachers, invisible parents and cool kids vs. nerds are all yawningly standard-issue fare. This winner of San Sebastian’s New Directors top prize could interest a few fests, but “New Kid” understands it’s pitched to the preteen crowd. Within that demographic, the film should see traction in Euro markets.
The big selling point here is the use of first-time kid actors, and while they’re all trapped in one stereotype or the other, their ease before the camera and ability to project high-wattage personalities go a long way toward making this old chestnut of a story enjoyable. Leading the pack is Rephael Ghrenassia as Benoit, 13, the new kid himself, who has just moved with his family to Paris from Le Havre. With his bright, open smile and winning disposition, Benoit should be a natural at making friends at his new school, but of course newbies are never embraced in clique-ridden classrooms.
The first kid who wants to be his friend is Constantin (Guillaume Cloud Roussel), an insufferable chatterbox with braces and glasses who obviously needs a chum, but hasn’t a clue how to get one. Next is Joshua (Joshua Raccah), the overweight prankster with a sense of humor all his own. They’re the only ones paying attention to Benoit, who’s not so sure about these weirdos himself, but he’s too nice to be rude and finds himself saddled with their friendship.
He’d rather direct his attention to another newbie, Johanna (Johanna Lindstedt), fresh from Sweden and trying to integrate into the French environment. Helmer-scripter Rosenberg seems oblivious that Johanna herself is a cliche: a hot chick from Sweden? Maybe if she came from some “problem” country there could have been an interestingly original vibe, but instead he chooses the nation of every young boy’s fantasy.
The problem for Benoit is that Johanna is attractive enough not to care about cliques, and is soon welcomed by Charles (Eytan Chiche) and his posse of cool dudes, the kind who delight in making pariahs of anyone deemed different. Benoit’s loser uncle Greg (Max Boublil, “The Brats”) encourages him to embrace the misfits, allowing for the expected moral that difference is OK, even if it means you’re ostracized by the peers you most want to hang around.
As with every other movie on this theme, the protag’s parents might as well not exist, and the teachers are clueless to everything that happens in their classroom. Finding anything original here is a challenge, though Rosenberg’s handling of his young charges is so sure, and their ability to convey personality so palpable, that one can almost forget the tired situations. Standing out in this group is Aglaee (Geraldine Martineau), a physically handicapped newbie whose no-nonsense vibe exudes a maturity far beyond the rest of her classmates; the character, with Martineau as star, was first featured in Rosenberg’s short “Aglaee,” which unsurprisingly originated several situations seen here in the director’s first feature.
Visuals are attractively sunny, and there’s not a hitch in the tech credits. Music is an eclectic mix, carefully chosen to withstand any charge of being too tied to a particular era.