Over the past few weeks on Twitter I have been raving about Pitch Perfect. I went to see the film early on in the year and enjoyed it much more than I’d anticipated. (I attended an afternoon showing and was surrounded by groups of teenagers. My own personal hell.) The trailer for Pitch Perfect was first released in late 2012 and did show some very basic similarities to Glee – modern songs being sung differently. (This can be said of Moulin Rouge! but I digress.) From the trailer it could clearly be seen that there was more snark in Pitch Perfect. I have nothing against Glee really but the trailer was making it very clear that this wasn’t a high school film. Yes it was a group of girls singing acapella, but they were at college. Very important difference…
After encouraging a friend to watch the film (he loved it) I started thinking about other “teen” films that can be elevated above “teen fodder”.
Last year/beginning of this year, Ultra Culture launched a kickstarter project to fund a documentary ‘Beyond Clueless’ looking at teen cinema from 1995 – 2004. This is worth keeping an eye out for, but this is just me talking about five teen films that I have particularly enjoyed over the past…nearly twenty years.
When this film came out I was six or seven so, needless to say, I didn’t watch it at the cinema. This was one of those films that I remember recording on VHS from BBC2. Pretty sure I watched it obsessively for quite a while and probably before the BBFC recommended age of 12. The film created a world that was completely different for me. It is such a highly stylised vision of Beverly Hills – very wealthy Beverly Hills. It had its own language (way before Juno), specific style features and it seemed like the most fun place you could live.
The dialogue was specific to the era and the surroundings and is one of the defining features of the film – you can get t-shirts from truffleshuffle or go to a Quote Along at the Prince Charles Cinema in Leicester Square. There was even a celebrated Clueless reunion by Entertainment Weekly late last year.
I think this was also the beginning of updates of classic fiction, at least for a teen audience. Unless you’ve read the novel you would have to be told that Clueless is an adaptation of Emma by Jane Austen.
10 Things I Hate About You (1999)
Here is another teen update but this time tackling Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. It worked for Kiss Me Kate so it was worth another try. The film gave us a great soundtrack with pop songs mixed with rock and American classics. Heath Ledger had a full leading role and Joseph Gordon-Levitt had a mid-3rd Rock from the Sun film outing. There was Julia Stiles (pre-Bourne and… Dexter), Larisa Oleynik post-The Secret Life of Alex Mack and the wonderful Allison Janney before she became forevermore C.J. Cregg. The inclusion of Janney in the cast signifies, for me, an aspect that helps to raise many of these films from the stereotypical teen films – they have great adult characters played by incredible actors. (Who wasn’t slightly terrified but in awe of Dan Hedaya as Cher’s dad in Clueless, or the adorableness of Wallace Shawn and Twink Caplan as Mr Hall and Miss Geist?)
[One of my first memories of watching this film was at school, because we were studying The Taming of the Shrew. They thought it would help. But then skipped past any ‘risque’ bits. We were all over 12 and I’m sure we could’ve coped with seeing a penis being drawn on David Krumholtz’s face. Especially as most people had already seen it. But that’s more of a lame anecdote than discussions of the film.]
These films are just so much fun. The characters are sparky, the dialogue ranges from insipid and childish to highly intelligent. Although the characters are quite…specific, there are aspects to each of them that you can relate to. Then there’s the poem. Both cringeworthy and heartbreaking depending on your mood. And who doesn’t leave the film singing ‘I Want You To Want Me’?
Bring It On (2000)
Bear with me for this one. This might be because I have affection for a film I saw and was obsessed with when I was 12. It is definitely on the chick flick side of the teen film genre and I might be seeing this film through the eyes of my 12-year-old self… But I can see a lot of similarities between this film and Pitch Perfect. Not the “love interest” bit, but the competitiveness between teams and the dialogue, particularly the dialogue.
You are being a cheer-tator Torrance
“Cheer sex” v. “toner” (may only make sense if you’ve seen the films)
This combination of real words with film specific words seems unique to these two films. (This is probably not true but I don’t know the other films/can’t think of them right now.)
But besides the seeming similarities to Pitch Perfect I can also appreciate moments throughout the film. Yes I quite like Kirsten Dunst, Eliza Dushku (I knew her from Buffy so, of course) and Jesse Bradford is cute. So I like the leads but I also really like the ‘set pieces’. The difference here being that these set pieces are cheering – be they rehearsals, football/basketball matches or competitions. And I also really like a lot of the music. So, yes, I may be viewing the film through the eyes of someone who grew up obsessed with it, but what’s wrong with that?
Mean Girls (2004)
This is the film that seemed to give Tina Fey the push she needed to be seen beyond Saturday Night Live, before 30 Rock. And this was back when Lindsay Lohan could sell a decent film and no-one really knew who Rachel McAdams and Amanda Seyfried were. Now McAdams and Seyfried can sell a film and Lohan… Well? Let’s not go there.
This film works by focusing on the cliques that exist in high school – possibly much more in evidence in US schools than UK… My school didn’t have that many people. And was single-sex school… The cliques have been updated since Clueless (explained to Tai by Cher) and 10 Things I Hate About You (explained to Cameron by Michael) because that’s true of society. This is another more female based comedy. I’m sure you don’t have to be a girl to enjoy it but it is definitely more relatable, just like Brave is more relatable for mothers and daughters (in my opinion).
The other interesting aspect of the film is the narration and animal kingdom metaphor. The constant ‘girl world’ versus ‘animal world’ discussions can be a little annoying but at least there’s a point there.
And let’s not forget the great adult characters. They may be a little on the periphery, but the inclusion of Tina Fey, Amy Poehler and Tim Meadows just add some gravitas to the proceedings. Even when Poehler acts as the worst mother ever.
Easy A (2010)
This is possibly my favourite of the lot and this is mostly due to the cast. The cast is incredible. Emma Stone owns the film (and garnered a Golden Globe nomination – the only nomination for any of these films) and is ably supported by her perfect parents Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson. Then there’s Thomas Haden Church, Malcolm McDowell, Penn Badgley and Lisa Kudrow.
The story is sort of loosely (very loosely) based on The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, but this is very self-aware and mentioned throughout in comparison to 10 Things I Hate About You and Clueless. The self-awareness of this aspect leads to a greater understanding of the nature of the rest of the film.
There is also a wonderful fondness for 80s films, particularly of the John Hughes ouvre. (Making the reverence for The Breakfast Club in Pitch Perfect feel a little ‘been there, done that’ but I’m okay with that.)
The dialogue, as with all of these films, is great with many standout moments that I don’t want to step on here. Just watch it. And ignore the awful American pronunciation of the ‘British slang’. You’ll see/hear when you get there. But don’t forget the ‘worst song ever’ that WILL get stuck in your head.
Those are my picks. I’m realising that a lot of these are more female-oriented but I’m slightly gender biased anyway… And I haven’t chosen any classic films – maybe an 80s post will come later.