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Movies

Will Success Spoil
Ned Vizzini?
B'klyn boy wrote the book on HS angst
— now it's a Miramax project

By CELIA McGEE
Daily News Feature Writer

s senior year in high school, Ned Vizzini messed up his college application essay, played Jesus in the Easter play at his mother's church, went to a Hooters, finally got a girlfriend — and was still a tall, skinny nerd.

That was after the turnstile-jumping bust junior year, running a marathon in sandals sophomore year and perfecting the subway commute from Park Slope to Stuyvesant High School in lower Manhattan when he was a freshman.

So senior year was better, but not much.

Way back then, he had no idea that in 2002, the film rights to his first book would get picked up by producer Jane Startz and Miramax.

vizzini_ned.JPG (7839 bytes)
Ned Vizzini

High school was three years ago.

Ned Vizzini is 20.

"These contracts, man, they're something. It's all in there — where my name will appear in the movie, whether I have the right to be at the premier party," he said.

Startz said she discovered Vizzini's book, "Teen Angst? Naaah...A Quasi-Autobiography," last year when she walked into her 13-year-old daughter's room "and one of her friends was reading a chapter aloud." It had become a huge cult hit after Ned came to their school to talk. "It's insightful and real — a teenage male version of 'Bridget Jones's Diary' or a latter-day 'Catcher in the Rye,' though not as cynical."

Those school speaking gigs are his favorite, Vizzini said between bites of fried egg, toast and bacon at a coffee shop near his Brooklyn apartment (he can walk to his parents'). "Kids tell me, 'I hate reading, but your book is really funny.'"

He has made the opportunity to book such engagements available on his Web site (nedvizzini.com), along with a press kit, pictures ("A girl once told me I looked like Freddie Prinze Jr., who gets reviled a lot — cut the guy some slack"), a bunch of his other writing and his résumé, which includes his grade-point average at Stuyvesant (97.5) and at Hunter College (3.939 [note, it's now 3.907 due to my stupid religion class --ned]), where he's now a junior majoring in computer science.

"What I love about Hunter is that it's not about being in college full-time. You take your classes, then there are the other things you do with your life. Here's my rant on brand-name colleges: the scenery is nice, but they're basically parentally funded drinking holes."

Hunter accepted him as a sophomore tuition-free (his rejections by Harvard and Yale culminate one of book's funnier parts). He writes. He trades stocks online. He plays in a rock band. He also works as a Web designer, counting among his clients his parents' business, Edison Price Lighting, a Long Island City manufacturer of high-end architectural lighting.

He is in the business of manufacturing Ned Vizzini.

"Teen Angst" is based on a series of columns he started doing in high school for New York Press, the freebie he chose to submit to because "they put a box outside Stuyvesant. I really liked the articles, and I decided I wanted to write like that. It was like when I was a little kid and loved video games, so I designed them."

Now he's contributing a weekly out-and-about column there called "Since When." It gets him into clubs, and helps him meet girls. He's getting ready to interview Charles (Hungry) Hardy, who just defended his title as international matzo-ball-eating champion. "I'm so psyched to interview him," Vizzini said. "It's the hot-dog-eating contests that usually get all the attention."

He often waxes indignant on behalf of the underdog like that. He also writes nice things about his high-school buds (they get pseudonyms in the book), like "Ike...a big buff Mayan dude — he was born in Central America, where, I learned, the Mayans were conquered by the Spanish in 1519, but, he swears he has full-on Mayan warrior blood in him."

He has less warm feelings about the teenagers he calls "vile creatures who grasp and exploit in the name of popularity." Those he met mostly at summer camp. When his original essay on the subject ran in New York Press, he forgot to change the camp's name. "A lot of people got in trouble, because I wrote about drugs and things. I felt bad." He can't say that his parents, who come across as lovable goofballs in the book, or his siblings "can see me writing another autobiography," either.

But he's not sorry about telling what he considers the truth about teens.

"Boredom. That's what most of high school is, and that's really traumatic." he said. "You think it's going to be like 'American Pie' or 'Saved by the Bell,' with all these beautiful women and really fun things happening, and instead it's full of people with pimples, and work all the time. People blame TV and movies for school shootings, because they supposedly desensitize kids to violence. I think they happen because kids get such a warped view of what high school is going to be like. Then they get there."







THIS ONE APPEARED 01/28/02; IT'S REALLY AMAZING HOW STUPID I CAN SOUND