Tag Archives: teen film

Heathers (1988)

I’ve heard Mean Girls (2004) referred to as a watered-down Heathers in the past, though I hadn’t seen the latter film until now. I can kind of understand the comparison. For example, both movies take place in the milieu of a bullying-infested high school, include a lot of made-up slang still quoted by people who’ve seen the films, and feature a school assembly that attempts to bring the pupils closer together and become more empathetic. In Mean Girls, the initiative comes from a well-meaning authority figure whose idea ultimately proves cathartic, even if the scene is played for laughs a little bit. Its counterpart in Heathers stems from a deceptive teacher out to aggrandise herself (or at least her philosophy), and it’s completely ineffective. This is symptomatic of the different approaches the two movies take.

Despite its broad comedy overall, Mean Girls is sincere in its depiction of the lead character falling in with a bad crowd and trying to redeem herself, and the titular clique is shown more as misguided and a product of their environment than as evil. The audience and maybe the characters may want the queen bee dead on occasion, but in the end she is more to be pitied than to be murdered. The 1988 version of Regina George, Heather Chandler (one of three Heathers forming a clique), is more openly malicious, less shaded… and actually dead after a few scenes, killed by protagonist Veronica (Winona Ryder) and her psychopathic boyfriend J.D. (Christian Slater). Continue reading

She’s All That (1999)

Zack (Freddie Prinze Jr.), the most popular guy in a California high school, is dumped by Taylor, his shallower, female equivalent, shortly before graduation. Eager to prove both that he’s over her and that he still has a way with the ladies, he agrees to a bet: he is to turn a girl on the lower social rungs of school into the prom queen within a few weeks. The young lady picked is Laney (Rachael Leigh Cook), daughter of a single-dad pool cleaner, aspiring artist and standoffish loner with few friends except for a romantically non-threatening heavyset boy who would probably be depicted as gay in a modern film (cf. Mean Girls).

With a little bit of squinting, this premise is recognizable as a take on Pygmalion (both the Greek myth and George Bernard Shaw’s 1912 play, which itself formed the basis for My Fair Lady). But it’s quite remarkable that, despite the supposed march of progress since then, Shaw’s circa-turn-of-the-century Eliza Doolittle remains the most feminist of the popular Galateas (the figurative statue turned into a real woman by Pygmalion). Continue reading

Whip It (2009)

For reasons I cannot recall, this film landed on my must-see list before it had come out. Having looked at the sole trailer before writing this review, I imagine it must have been festival reviews that garnered my interest and not so much the preview, which makes the film look like an insufferable mix of indie teen comedy and exotic sports drama, while summarising most of the movie. It also can’t have been the presence of Ellen Page as the lead, who I developed an irrational mild dislike for during the promotion of Juno (2007).

Whip It centres on the ironically-named 17 year old Bliss Cavendish, who longs to get out of the small Texas town she grew up in, as well as out from the shadow of her overbearing mother, a former beauty queen who wants her two daughters to follow in her footsteps. An opportunity to escape the pageant circus presents itself when Bliss notices a bunch of brash, confident roller derby girls leaving flyers at a shop. She attends a game in nearby Austin, becomes intrigued, and tries out for a spot with the undisputed anti-champion, the Hurl Scouts. (From what I could gather, the entire league is limited to Austin, with a handful of small teams competing against each other and common try-outs for everyone to take their picks from.)

It sounds like the set-up for a pretty standard plot, and indeed it is. Bliss gets accepted because apparently she’s very fast despite minimal training, and the Hurl Scouts’ coach overlooks her obvious lack of aggression. A combination of Bliss’s talent and the rather sudden decision by her team members to start listening to their coach leads to the Scouts ascending the ranks and punching a ticket to the championship match, which the team has never been in contention for. A major romantic subplot is also all too simple: Bliss likes a boy from afar, he seeks her out, they become a couple. The last quarter or so of the film introduces complications, but they never really amount to steering the plot away from being too easy (or, in the case of the domestic drama subplot with Bliss and her parents, from being utterly predictable).
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Mean Girls (2004)

Not counting The Parent Trap (1998), which I’ve seen on television in bits and pieces, I had never watched a Lindsay Lohan film until now. So my image of her was that she was the typical child star who couldn’t deal with not really having a normal childhood and “broke bad” (see also: Macaulay Culkin, Britney Spears, Shia LaBeouf, Justin Bieber). While that hasn’t really changed, I do now also kinda see why the media seemed so much more interested in Lohan’s exploits than those of her contemporaries: she was actually talented.

Mean Girls was made right between the time when Lohan was too young for audiences to really tell whether she was a good actress and when she went off the rails. It’s a comedy, not a drama, but it still required someone in the lead role who had screen presence and who could convincingly portray the main character’s journey. Lohan fulfills both criteria at least as well as Emma Stone (I get the comparison now!). One wonders what her career would look like today, ten years later, if she’d stayed (moderately) clean.
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The Breakfast Club (1985)

I was a bit apprehensive about watching another John Hughes “classic” after the disappointment of Sixteen Candles (1984). Thankfully, The Breakfast Club is a much better and less problematic film. Its very uncomplicated plot helps it from careening too far off track: A group of five teenagers from different social circles have been ordered into school on a Saturday morning to face detention as punishment for various bad behaviours. They talk, they bond, the end.

The simplicity of the plot makes the character work stand out all the more. The protagonists start off as teen movie stereotypes – the jock, the geek, the rebel, the social queen, the weirdo -, but infuse these clichés with nuance and ambiguity over the course of the story. As they get to know each other, they turn into more three-dimensional characters who shouldn’t be defined by a single word. But they’re all in detention for a good reason, and their more negative actions both before and during the film aren’t waved aside as harmless.

All five lead actors give convincing and at times surprisingly subtle performances, particularly Judd Nelson as Bender, an irresponsible bully and drug dealer with hidden depths. Molly Ringwald and Anthony Michael Hall are carried over from Sixteen Candles and benefit from the superior material; they both show that their repertoire is bigger than “pouty and pining” and “fidgety and faux self-confident”, respectively.
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Sixteen Candles (1984)

It’s always a bit weird to watch a film for a younger target audience when you, yourself, have outgrown said audience. I’m an animation fan, so I’m used to ignoring moments clearly only meant for the kiddies so I can enjoy a film on more mature grounds. It’s why I generally prefer classic Disney and Pixar over everything else in the artform, because they tend to do less of that sort of pandering and focus more on timeless and all-ages story, characters and themes.

The same should hold true for teenage comedies, but doesn’t. I suppose socialisation makes a difference. Unlike animation, I was never really into this type of film, learning about their plots and tropes primarily through cultural osmosis. When I watch one of these beloved movies today, as an adult and for the first time, the cringeworthy elements linger much longer and can’t be as easily shrugged off.

Take Sixteen Candles, John Hughes’ directorial debut. I know it as one of the quintessential classic teen movies because other people vaguely my age who grew up with it have steadfastly declared it to be so. It’s certainly well shot and edited, with good acting and fluid pacing. But the central plot is pretty standard: A shy girl (Samantha) loves a rich jock (Jake); the jock secretly likes her, too, but is already in a relationship; and a geeky boy (Ted) awkwardly tries to get into the girl’s pants (or any girl’s, really). There are mistakes and misconceptions, but in the end, there’s a harmonious resolution for everyone involved.

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Easy A (2010)

Even as a teenager, I was never very interested in the genre of the “teenage coming-of-age comedy”. That hasn’t changed in the years since. To this day, I have not seen Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and can count the movies of this type that I can remember having watched in the past five years or so on one hand (among them Superbad, which left me unimpressed, and the mildly enjoyable parody of the genre O.C. and Stiggs by the always interesting Robert Altman).

So I likely would never have bothered with Easy A if several things hadn’t caught my eye:

  • a funny trailer;
  • a fairly clever concept;
  • the classic literature tie-in;
  • the surprisingly rapturous reviews;
  • Emma Stone, whose career I have semi-followed since I first saw her in the sadly short-lived television series Drive (and who, incidentally, was one of the bright spots of Superbad).
My interest was piqued, and I picked up the Blu-ray when it was on sale a little while ago. The verdict: Easy A is a pleasantly watchable film. It’s not anywhere near being a masterpiece, because despite everything I’m about to list in its favour, it has a fairly conventional structure and ending. And the actors are a) too old for their roles and b) too pretty/handsome on average, but those are general Hollywood problems I could fault almost any film for.
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