Thursday, August 29, 2013

10 Teen Movies That Are Better Than You Think

by Patrick Bromley
Sure, we all love Ferris Bueller's Day Off and The Breakfast Club. But where is the love for these teen movies?

1. The Last American Virgin (1982) I've written about this one before, but it just came up in the comments with a reader and actually inspired this list. There is a lot about this movie (Cannon Films' attempt at bringing the Israeli Lemon Popsicle series to the U.S.) that is terrible -- it feels like a foreigner's interpretation of American teen sex comedies like Porky's. But then there are also weird scenes of ugly truth, like when the boys visit a prostitute and all end up with crabs, or the incredibly harsh and honest ending. No other teen movie ends like this one, and that's why those of us who still talk about it (there are a few of us) are talking about it. For all its stupidity, The Last American Virgin is one of the few movies that gets what it feels like to be a teenager right, if only for a moment.
2. The Night Before (1988) Thom Eberhardt's follow-up to the great Night of the Comet is another inversion of the familiar teen movie tropes. Rather than have a teen movie that gets interrupted by the apocalypse, Eberhardt plays it straight...almost. It's a standard nerdy guy (Keanu Reeves) gets date with spoiled princess (Lori Loughlin) to go to the prom story. Only we never see the prom. And the nerdy guy blacks out and has amnesia. And the spoiled princess gets sold to a pimp. The movie walks a weird line between traditional teen movie hijinx and genuine sleaze, but it's a fascinating experiment. Plus Keanu Reeves is really sweet and goofy, something he wouldn't get to be again until The Watcher.

3. How I Got Into College (1989) Having already covered the horrors of high school and what to do with the summer after graduation, the third movie in Savage Steve Holland's teen trilogy (following the great Better Off Dead and the less-great One Crazy Summer) moves its attention to higher education. The movie is missing one very important element: John Cusack. His replacement, Corey Parker, is no replacement. But it features a lot of the same absurdist humor as his first two movies and takes the lives and concerns of its teenage protagonists very seriously. Lara Flynn Boyle (back when she had a face) is a standout, mostly because she's playing the kind of grade-grubbing perfectionist that's usually the uppity villain of most teen movies. Instead, the film understands the kind of pressure that kind of young person is under and doesn't pass judgment. Though it might be the least successful of Holland's teenage trilogy, How I Got Into College is smart and very sweet.
4. Dick (1999) Man, '99 was an embarrassment of riches of teen movies, no doubt kicked off by the second-wave renaissance (thanks to stuff like Can't Hardly Wait and She's All That). One of the best of that lot was Dick, a sharp political satire masquerading as a teen comedy starring Kirsten Dunst and Michelle Williams. With an insane bench of supporting actors (Will Ferrell, Bruce McCulloch, Ryan Reynolds, Dan Hedaya, Dave Foley, Teri Garr, Harry Shearer and even Ted C. McGinley) and a really funny script by Andrew Fleming, the film plays out the Watergate Scandal through the eyes of two clueless young girls. Such an underrated movie.

5. Cruel Intentions (1999) This one's a little trickier. The umpteenth reimagining of Les Liasons Dangereuses (Dangerous Liaisons for you philistines) casts a bunch of teen stars -- many of them from TV shows at the time -- and has them play spoiled rich kids fucking each other and fucking each other over at a prestigious East Coast private school. Director Roger Kumble's adaptation is surprisingly sharp and funny, largely thanks to a scene-stealing turn by Selma Blair as one of Ryan Phillippe's conquests. The love story between Phillippe and future wife (and futurer ex-wife) Reese Witherspoon is played straight, which helps ground a lot of the film's silliness. Great music, too. This movie should be terrible and isn't at all.

6. 10 Things I Hate About You (1999) I've already gone on at embarrassing length why I think 10 Things I Hate About You is one of the best of the second-wave teen movies. I won't repeat myself here.
7. Get Over It! (2001) There's a terrific movie buried inside the almost totally forgotten Get Over It!, which stars a pre-SUPER INTENSE Ben Foster as a high school boy who's been recently dumped and Kirsten Dunst as the girl who helps him recover. The movie is full of musical numbers (including a GREAT opening credits sequence), as the characters are all participating in their school's production of a musical adaptation of A Midsummer Night's Dream with very funny original songs. Unfortunately, the film is cockblocked by lots of early-2000s Miramax tampering: clumsy stunt casting -- I'm looking at you, Sisqo -- and horrible gross-out set pieces (still chasing the Farrelly Brothers formula three years too late) that interrupt what is otherwise a smart and funny teen movie. The musical stuff is so good and the raunchy stuff so bad that the movie winds up feeling schizophrenic.

8. Sugar & Spice (2001) Cheerleaders rob a bank to help their pregnant captain. It's a stupid premise, but the movie doesn't pretend otherwise; the girls learn everything they know from watching Reservoir Dogs, Point Break and Heat. What makes this one work -- beyond its self-aware sense of humor and brisk running time (80 minutes!) -- are the performances of Marley Shelton and James Marsden, who are incredibly sweet and simple and totally in love. A lesser movie would make fun of them for being "dumb," but Sugar & Spice recognizes how adorable and winning they both are. This is a movie that could have easily tried to go DARK but wisely resists that urge. Otherwise it would have been Jawbreaker. NO ONE WANTS THAT.

9. Not Another Teen Movie (2001) Nowadays, Not Another Teen Movie gets lumped in with Friedberg/Seltzer garbage like Epic Movie and Date Movie and Celebrity Impersonator Gets Kicked in the Balls Movie. It's much, much better than that, though, demonstrating a ZAZ-like interest in going for any and every joke possible. Chris Evans is terrific in an early performance (he should do more comedy) and Jaime Pressly plays the kind of part she was born to play/only part she CAN play. The movie has its problems -- the way it mixes first and second-wave teen movies ('80s and '90s) doesn't totally work because the references are all over the place, and there's way too much reliance on stupid poo jokes and that sort of thing -- but the movie has somehow managed to age very well. It's better and funnier than I remember it being in 2001.
10. Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist (2008) Some day very soon, I'm going to write a much longer piece about this movie, which was totally and unfairly dismissed when it came out in 2008 because a) teen movies are no longer a thing, really and b) everyone decided they were tired of the Michael Cera schtick. Ok, sure. Not every single thing in Nick & Norah works; like several other movies on this list, there's an odd reliance on gross out set pieces and there are too many extraneous plot threads, but what works really works. I've said this before and I'm sure I'll repeat myself in the longer piece, but Nick & Norah is so of its time that it feels ahead of it. The movie (and the book on which it is based) understands and respects young people in a way that very few modern movies do. And because so much of the movie is about characters who love and connect over music, the soundtrack is fantastic. Even if you don't see the movie, you should buy that album.

*Almost every one of these trailers (linked to in the titles) grossly missrepresents the movies they are advertising. It's actually kind of funny, unless you're actually watching them to get a sense of whether or not I'm right about them being pretty good. Then you'll think I'm the worst.

21 comments:

  1. Really showing your age there with that U in 'Sisquo'.

    Obligatory comment because this is the internet: Where is Mean Girls?

    (What a rude comment. Shame on me.)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Fixed. I'm an old man.

      I didn't put Mean Girls on the list because while it is good, I feel like everyone knows it's good.

      Delete
    2. Ha! Now my comment looks even worse.
      And I didn't even comment on the list.
      Not Another Teen Movie is way funnier than a movie with so much poop humour should be. I feel like it's one of the last parody movies before they all became 'reference movies'. They actually tried to tell a couple of jokes and say something about the movies they were spoofing. And that scene with the dramatic painting will always crack me up.

      Also: apparently this is happening
      http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2403029/
      I wonder how those guys feel when they've finished another one of their movies.

      Delete
    3. See, it's funny, because "Starving" is the opposite of "Hunger." See what they did? Have you shit your pants yet?

      Delete
    4. It took me a while to put that post together because of all the shit I had to clean from my pants.
      If you thought that title was weak: just found out Friedberg/Selzer are already working on their next masterpiece "Superfast" which will "parody" the Fast & Furious movies.
      Don't they realize the Fast & Furious movies are already parodying themselves? (And doesn't Vin Diesel?)

      Delete
  2. Nice list PB. I would add Bring It On, to the lot. To me a more enjoyable cheerleader movie than Sugar &Spice. I know it's got a shitload of sequels; but that doesn't always mean the originalis recognized as good (see Children of the Corn)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, GG. I like things about Bring it On (car wash), but something about it has always rubbed me the wrong way. The movie tries to have it both ways, where it acts like something is all silly but also wants to convince us it's important and changes lives. And all the made up language bugs me, too. It's all the exact issues I have with Pitch Perfect. BUT I'm glad there are cheerleader movies for all of us. It's what we deserve.

      Delete
  3. I've seen everything here except the last American Virgin and The Night Before and gotta agree these ones are definitely underappreciated.

    Another teen film I think gets a little underrated is Drop Dead Gorgeous with Kristen Dunst and Denise Richards, man what a dark little comedy that one is.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Absolutely. Forgot to put it on here. Also released in '99, clearly the Golden Age of underrated teen movies.

      Delete
    2. People are all "The Dark Knight was so dark!" and I'm all "have you seen Drop Dead Gorgeous?" and then they unfriend me cause I'm the worst.

      Delete
    3. I would befriend you for only that reason.

      Delete
    4. God, the moment when the Cops crew shows up....and dancing with Jesus...that movie is just weird fun.

      Delete
  4. Love this list. THAT IS ALL.

    ReplyDelete
  5. There's a 1995 movie called "Angus" about an bullied overweight teen in love with girl who's dating a pre-Dawson's creek James Van Der Beek. I remembered seeing the trailer several times on MTV but never got to see it. It wasn't a hit and has faded into obscurity. Has anyone seen it?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. In a theater on opening weekend, the way it was meant to be seen.

      I liked the soundtrack a lot more than I liked the movie, even though it is not the worst and features a very young/small Sherminator. I think it's available through Warner Archive if you are curious.

      Delete
    2. Angus gave his love to me softly.

      Delete
  6. Sweet, I inspired a list! And on the subject of Bring it On/cheerleader movies, I gotta say that I really like the unrated cut of the unfairly maligned and ignored Fired Up!, for several reasons:

    - Eric Christian Olsen and Nicolas D'Agosto are so old that their casting simply demands to be read as a satirical meta-commentary on older actors playing high schoolers, which makes everything they say and do a bit funnier. And they're both pretty funny and skilled improvisers in their own right.

    - It was shot in some Los Angeles botanical garden, which lends the whole movie a whimsical and deliriously colorful feel. As a big fan of botanical gardens and arboretums myself, I dig this movie on its visuals alone.

    It's just a totally lighthearted, harmless and grin-inducing movie overall, and it's a lot funnier than its obvious premise suggests. A perfect movie for a rainy day or a raging fever.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes! Another one I forgot. Super underrated. Plus, Erika was college buddies with Nicolas D'Agosto. Bonus points. Thanks, El Gaith!

      Delete
  7. Awesome list! I gotta give props to Crazy/Beautiful. It's a great movie because she's beautiful but she's also crazy.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Sheesh, this is a solid list. And let me make a bold statement about Dick: Dan Hedeya is the second best Nixon on film, no question (best is Philip Baker Hall in Secret Honor; third is Frank Langella in Frost/Nixon and fourth is Anthony Hopkins in Nixon).

    NATM is...so weirdly underrated. Chris Evans poking holes in the sensitive jock trope! Professional dancer jokes! Molly Ringwald! That movie is an embarrassment of riches. Sadly, it's brought down by Randy Quaid.

    ReplyDelete
  9. 3. How I Got Into College (1989)... the third movie in Savage Steve Holland's teen trilogy (following the great Better Off Dead and the less-great One Crazy Summer)

    Complete aside. I've been working at the office for the past few weeks transcribing/close captioning episodes from a TV series, and Savage Steve Holland appears often as the director of a bunch of them. If you search IMDB you'll see that, after the trilogy of films Patrick talked about, Holland has been working steady of TV since the 90's 'till now. Same thing with Michael Lehman, director of the great "Heathers," and many a director of a cult film that wasn't a critical or money-making theatrical out of the gate.

    Just felt like pointing out that many directors of cult films end up doing journeyman TV work for the rest of their life to make a living because, cool as the cult films are, they don't pay the studio bills and their creators rarely luck into being allowed to do other films.

    ReplyDelete