What I love most about movies is everything. But what I love second most about movies is the way they change every time you watch them (it must be the movies that are changing, because people don't, right?). I can't think of a better general example to describe this inconsistency than with my favorite sub-genre of film: teen movies. This sub-genre has not stopped growing in popularity or freshness since 1955 when James Dean put on his leather jacket in Rebel Without a Cause.
A teen film is defined by films whose main characters are teenagers (13-19) and whose plot is dependent on the fact that they are teenagers. This sub-genre stays prevalent in a way that others cannot. The jock, bully, cheerleader, first love archetypes are ones that have not left high school hallways since the '50s. The sub-genre targets an impressive ground in audience, being able to reach the hearts of children staying up past their bedtimes, longing teens with Internet access, and adults reminiscing on their rebellious years. Teen movies continue to thrive in creating perfect harmonies of dirty jokes and sweet "firsts" the teenage drama that nourishes it shows no imminent signs of slowing down.
This being said, I want to share the impacts of five of my (soon-to-be your) favorite flicks from this sub-genre to remind you of their existences, and also to inspire you to look for something new within them. The following movies perfectly encapsulate what being a teenager is supposed to be, but never is:
5. Grease (1978)
Grease is the time, is the place is the motion. Grease is the way we are feeling.
Whether it's watching it for the sixteenth time on the W Network or hearing crappy versions of "Summer Nights" in karaoke, everyone has felt Grease. Grease wonderfully weaves together a seemingly effortless combination of family-appropriated fun and raunchy, underlying lustfulness. Its singsong tunes and '50s nostalgia are simply bonuses to the empowerment that lies in Rizzo's unfiltered boldness. She confidently boasts about a concept normally hushed to the silk screen: a female who is open, honest and mature about her own sexuality. I love Grease for both the light it shines on female sexuality in entertainment, and its glorification of leather pants.
4. Donnie Darko (2001)
Why are you wearing that stupid man suit?
Donnie Darko is the strangest movie you will ever find normal. I have seen this movie at least 20 times and am still far from comprehending half of it. Donnie is constantly being pulled in different directions. He feels pressure from his parents and his psychiatrist to be normal, a human-sized rabbit is ordering him around, he's insecure about girls; he is torn. And I take comfort in the fact that, to some extent, everyone feels some sort of Donnie stage throughout his or her teenhood. It's as if we can hear Donnie's thoughts throughout the movie: Who are you? Who am I? Why am I like this? What does it mean? Donnie's arrogance hits a wall when the rabbit, in retort to questioning the rabbit suit, asks, "Why are you wearing that stupid man suit?" This is when it becomes painfully clear that none of Donnie's questions are answerable.
3. Juno (2007)
What's the prognosis, fertile myrtle?
In a world where a two-sided, never-ending debate about abortion resides, a movie named Juno, speaks out. Juno is known for both its sharp, quick-witted, and genuinely endearing script and for its power ballad soundtrack, but it's so much more than that. Juno leads you on as a movie about a 16-year old girl who makes the worst mistake a 16-year old girl can make, but is in fact a delicate and unusually intelligent story about love. Juno essentially destroys preconceived notions about its characters with capricious, but soft personalities. A Christian mom who supports her independence, a blue-collar dad who unconditionally loves her, a best friend who is well-liked but is indifferent to her popularity, and a dorky and athletic sort-of boyfriend who doesn't turn out to be a jerk. Juno is touchingly unpredictable, and speaks to the fiction and complexity of preconceived notions.
2. Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986)
The sportos, the motorheads, geeks, sluts, bloods, wasteoids, dweebies, dickheads -- they all adore him. They think he's a righteous dude.
Those two words epitomize Ferris Bueller's Day Off. Ferris Bueller is nothing but a "righteous dude." Ferris' arrogance and pretentiousness is somehow overlooked throughout the movie due to his undeniable charm and invincibility. I have always felt as though Ferris could be foremost characterized as a leader. This fictional, aside-speaking character led a generation of youth who felt and continue to feel this heightened, disillusioned invincibility and desire for inspiration and spontaneity, on a float through Chicago, covering the Beatles. He not only seamlessly rebels against every possible obstacle in his way towards a day off; he does it with class whilst offering hope for others.
1. Mean Girls (2004)
I don't hate you because you're fat, you're fat because I hate you.
Since its release in 2004, I can say, with certainty that, as a teenage girl, I have not gone longer than a full week without hearing a reference to this movie. Mean Girls left such a resonating impact, that it is not only still being quoted, it is being whole-heartedly laughed at and enjoyed. The spunk, crudity, and appalling truth in its dialogue not only established, but upholds Tina Fey as our generation's best screenwriter. While the girls in this movie are portrayed as ruthlessly fighting each other in Girl World, the movie itself is fighting for change. The manipulations undergone by its once shiny and unscathed protagonist, Cady, demonstrates the endless cycle of deceit and judgment under the cumbersome oppressions of Girl World, or of real world. It's a desperate call to feminism, if you're listening. If not, it's a comedic and exhilarating take on high school stereotypes.