When it comes to college admissions, Honor has got it all. She’s editor-in-chief of the school newspaper, which she rebooted. She’s captain of the school volleyball team. She started a food bank for the economically disadvantaged. She’s even got great grades to prove that none of the former is a burden on her.
There is, of course, one thing she doesn’t have: a letter of recommendation. Sure, she could go to whatever state school she wants, but she’s gunning for her white whale: Harvard. And to get in there, it takes more than just being a model student. It takes connections.
As it turns out, her guidance counselor, Mr. Calvin, just so happens to have that connection: an influential friend who attended the revered college. And he’s more than willing to give Mr. Calvin’s top student the recommendation she needs to get a leg up on the rest of the competition.
Unfortunately for Honor, Mr. Calvin has four top students. Aside from Honor, Travis, Kennedy and Michael are all in the running for that coveted recommendation. With little time before final grades are to be submitted to universities, Honor figures she’ll get into the other students’ heads—knock them off their study habits and cause them to bomb their midterms, catapulting her into the lead as Mr. Calvin’s clear choice. With Honor’s skillful manipulation, it’ll all be too easy.
Except, as it turns out, it’s not easy. That’s because Michael isn’t falling for any of the tactics she’s using against him. And if she doesn’t get him to crack soon, he’s sure to ace the midterm and have a real shot at getting that recommendation.
Though perhaps unintentionally, Honor’s efforts to ruin her competitors’ grades end up making them happier. Both Kennedy and Travis realize that performance and grades aren’t the end-all goal in life. Instead, they make new friendships with other people.
Through these experiences, Honor gradually realizes that she doesn’t have those important relational connections herself. She starts to wonder if her quest to get into Harvard has caused her to miss out on genuine connections with others, exemplified primarily by the dismissive way she treats her mother. And as Honor commences this unintentional journey of self-discovery, she recognizes that what matters more than grades and success are lasting relationships with other people.
[Spoiler Warning] This all comes to a climax when Honor discovers a tragic truth: Just as she had been playing Travis, Kennedy and Michael like pawns on a chessboard, Michael has been doing the same to her. Though the movie casts Michael as a villain from this point on, this twist provides a foil to measure Honor’s own personal growth. No longer is she a manipulative psychopath; she’s now like us in the audience, watching with a horrified and disgusted look at how someone’s selfish ambition can cause them to disregard so many others.
Honor calls celebrities “the gods of my people.” Then she adds, “So I either worship them, or I’m an outcast.” A girl asks for an “amen” when a boy texts her back. Honor references “Weeping Angels,” statue-like monsters from the series Doctor Who.
The vast majority of the content issues here involve Honor Society’s stream of sexual references, jokes and gags.
We see a photo of Honor in a swimsuit, and she uses the photo to tempt, it’s implied, another student to masturbate. Honor also intentionally wears revealing clothes that accentuate her figure and expose her cleavage to try to tempt the same student. She uses a pencil in a pencil sharpener to make a guy think about sex. Honor and Michael kiss on multiple occasions. Honor talks about male genitals. Honor says her parents “screwed once and made me.” A boy makes a crude sexual suggestion towards Honor.
Travis says that he’s saving himself for marriage. But we later discover that he’s using that apparent conviction, as well as his girlfriend, to hide the fact that he’s actually gay. He also lies that he and his girlfriend are doing “sex stuff.” Travis and another boy get lead parts in a play (the latter of whom plays a woman), and they kiss. Later, it’s implied that the two boys are dating. Kennedy mentions that an LGBT organization is providing a livestream for her play because the man and woman are both played by men.
Kennedy says a car smells like sweaty male genitals. A girl and her boyfriend kiss passionately on a couple occasions. A girl references masturbation. Another girl wears a shirt that exposes her midriff.
An adult asks Honor, a 17-year-old, to have sex with him. On a couple instances, the camera directly focuses on the clothed breasts or clothed male rears of a couple high school students. A male teacher is seen shirtless in a flashback. We hear references to many sexual activities, including oral sex, anal sex, the loss of one’s virginity, masturbation and pornography. A character exclaims, “Get your beautiful butt in here!”
Kennedy writes a play centered around Queen Mary I of England. We hear how she got the nickname “Bloody Mary” by executing Protestant believers.
A girl shoves Honor, and Honor knocks the girl to the ground. During a play, a guillotine decapitates a fake head from an actor (and there’s no blood).
Honor catches a man trying to drug her drink, and Honor uses the drugs in Mr. Calvin’s drink to cause him to pass out.
The f-word is heard six times, and the s-word is used eight times. We also hear 15 uses of “a–,” eight instances of “b–ch” and a dozen uses of “h—.” There are a couple uses of both “p-ss” and “slut.” Additionally, “b–tard,” “c-ck,” “crap,” “d–chebag” and the British vulgarity “bloody” are all used once. God’s name is misused nearly 20 times.
People drink beer. There are references to the date-rape drug Roofies. Mr. Calvin threatens to tell two students’ parents that they do drugs. Honor is able to order a beer while underage (though she brings it to another, legal-aged person).
Throughout the movie, Honor manipulates and demeans other people, thinking herself better than them. A teacher is shown to have spray-painted a chalkboard. Mr. Calvin references a story in which his friend stole a phone. Michael persuades Honor to break into a house.
It’s hard to root for Honor. And that’s probably because she has none to begin with.
Honor is in the running with three other students for a much-needed recommendation that’ll help one of them get into Harvard, and that’s three students too many for Honor’s liking. Fortunately for her, she’s a bit of what you’d call a manipulative psychopath. She’s not afraid to get her hands dirty by distracting her competition away from studying long enough to get them kicked out of consideration.
But as Honor keeps up false appearances for her resume and makes yet another reference to Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, she’ll start to see that all those people she thought were beneath her actually have fulfilling relationships with other people. They’re not obsessed with their grades, and they’re not keen on using people as a means to an end. They’re more focused on the genuine friendships they have with others. And as Honor sees that truth, she begins to crave those kinds of relationships herself.
Of course, this is a 21st-century secular movie focused on high school and relationships, so we’ll also have to endure the rampant sexual content that pervades the whole thing. That content includes references to sex, masturbation and pornography. Honor frequently attempts to cause a male student to slip in his studies by constantly making him think about having sex with her. Another student is gay, and his journey revolves around him coming out to his father (and breaking it off with his girlfriend). We even discover that one teacher is a sexual predator.
There’s a good message to be found within Honor Society: people are more important than whatever selfish ambitions we could ever hope to achieve. But the amount of concerning content within the movie buries that message. It’s like a car that’s just taken a trip down a long dirt road: yeah, it works, but it’s in desperate need of a wash.
Though he was born in Kansas, Kennedy Unthank studied journalism at the University of Missouri. He knew he wanted to write for a living when he won a contest for “best fantasy story” while in the 4th grade. What he didn’t know at the time, however, was that he was the only person to submit a story. Regardless, the seed was planted. Kennedy collects and plays board games in his free time, and he loves to talk about biblical apologetics and hermeneutics. His favorite movie is La La Land.